NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – A former assistant principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School spoke out following the mass school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Dr. Anthony Salvatore was the assistant principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School during the 2011-12 school year. His position at the school was eliminated in June 2012, about six months before the mass shooting at the school on Dec. 13, 2012. He’s now the co-president of the Connecticut Federation of School Administrators.
Salvatore said he was traumatized again after 19 students and two educators were shot in Uvalde.
“It was like flipping a switch. It brought me right back,” he said. “The same feelings…the numbness, coldness, anxiety.”
If he’s learned anything over the years, it’s the need to process the trauma before processing grief.
“Kids have come to school with traumatic experiences from home for decades,” Salvatore said. “It’s how do we address that piece. It’s a whole family issue, it’s a whole community issue.”
Salvatore became a student of trauma — learning how it lives in the mid- or sensory part of the brain, not the language part. This is why teachers decided to make adjustments when students first came back to school in Sandy Hook.
“One teacher stood up and said, you know, ‘is it okay if we hug the kids?'” he said. “There are kinds of back and forth…legal ramifications…should you, shouldn’t you. I stood up and invoked my safe school climate title and say, yeah, it’s okay to hug a child. Absolutely.”
Salvatore has been largely silent for nearly a decade, but the tragedy at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde inspired him to speak up.
“I don’t use the word lost,” he said. “They were killed. They were murdered. They were killed.”
Salvatore’s frustrated there hasn’t been more change since 2012. He knows for certain that is healing an individual journey that will last a lifetime.
“Something as simple as breathing as I have learned, and it sounds simple,” he said. “But mindfulness training. Just taking a breath. That’s where the families are right now and the whole community.”
On Wednesday, Salvatore released this statement:
The CT Federation of School Administrators sends its deepest sympathies, courage, peace, and comfort to the families, friends, and community members of the 19 students and 2 teachers who were killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas yesterday.
Having experienced personally the loss and trauma of 20 students, 5 teachers, and 1 administrator at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost ten years ago, we learned that it is important to treat the trauma first before treating grief. This will take time and resources.
We wish the families will have the time to deal with their personal loss and the resources to support them in whatever way they need. There is no right way to process trauma or grief as an individual or community and not everyone needs the same resources to cope. It is an individual journey.
Their healing journey will last a lifetime – a marathon versus a race. It is important for them to know that we support them now and we will be there to support them in the future.Dr. Anthony Salvatore
Salvatore told News 8 that he’s proud Connecticut lawmakers moved swiftly in the months following the Sandy Hook shooting to enact stricter gun laws and increased mental healthcare.