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Sandy Hook survivor's wit and will a weapon for her wounds

Updated 11:03 pm, Monday, December 17, 2012
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NEWTOWN -- Natalie Hammond was probably cracking jokes Friday morning when she went to a staff meeting in the principal's office at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Hammond, described Monday by her best friend as "one of the funniest people on the planet," would have been feeling good because it was her daughter Kayla's 12th birthday.

Hammond, the recently promoted lead teacher at the school, is one of two wounded survivors of the nightmare that befell Sandy Hook on Friday.

At about 9:30 a.m., she ran out of a meeting with Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach. They came face-to-face with 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who had just shot his way into the school with a high-powered semiautomatic rifle.

Lanza's burst of fire killed Hochsprung and Sherlach. Hammond was shot in the foot, leg and hand, but managed to crawl to safety behind a door. Lanza then went down the hall to two classrooms, where he killed 20 children and four teachers.

Ten minutes later, Lanza fired a bullet into his own head.

Hammond's survival is hailed by her friends as a miracle.

Prior to the shooting spree, Lanza killed his mother, Nancy, with a handgun from the legally obtained arsenal of weaponry she kept in the house they shared.

Hammond is "just an incredible person ... a great mom,'' said Anika Sonski, of Naugatuck, Hammond's best friend of 22 years, a roommate and sorority sister at Gettysburg College where Hammond earned an elementary education and sociology degree in 1994. "It's impossible to have an interaction with her and not laugh. And she's incredibly caring.''

Before her promotion this year, Hammond was a third-grade teacher at the school for about a decade, Sonski said. Her career was on the rise, with her intent to undergo the extra education needed to become an elementary school principal, she said.

"We're just blessed she's still with us,'' Sonski said.

David Verespy, Hammond's classmate at St. Joseph High School in Trumbull, said word that Hammond was a shooting victim spread quickly through their tight-knit alumni group. He described Hammond as "a very sweet person.''

Sonski said she learned of the shooting late that morning. At work in Waterbury, Sonski said she heard there was a shooting in Newtown, but never imagined her friend might be in danger as she works in a neighborhood school.

Then, as more fragments of the tale were assembled, she suddenly feared for her friend's life.

"I felt helpless," Sonski said.

Later that afternoon, she received texts from Hammond's husband, Jerry, and parents, George and Rita Green, of Southbury, that confirmed she was wounded but alive.

"And then I kind of lost it,'' Sonski said.

Not until she was able to speak and touch her Saturday did she really believe her friend had survived.

"I felt I could exhale again,'' Sonski said.

To protect Hammond's privacy and that of her family, Sonski will not talk about her condition, prognosis or where she is being treated -- her family is in a self-imposed seclusion due to the barrage of media that has surrounded them. Sonski said she knows only the barest details of what occurred. Their visit was about a special sisterhood, and her desire to laugh with her friend once again.

The two met just before their freshman year. Hammond was attending volleyball camp. Sonski was an early arrival.

"We hit it off right away, and we've been best friends ever since,'' said Sonski, herself a mother of two young girls.

Outside the schoolhouse, Sonski said her friend is a "total outdoor freak.''

Sonski said her best friend loves to go camping; Hammond's husband, Jerry, is a fisherman, and she loves to race mountain bikes.

Sonski admitted such excursions make her cringe. To humor her friend, she went mountain biking with her once some time ago in Danbury. "And that was enough for me,'' Sonski said.

Once her friend is back in action, Sonski might change her tune. And she has no doubt her friend will recover.

The when is not as important as the will, she said.

"She has amazing fight, and she'll attack it. It will be a daunting task, for sure. But she's still here.''