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Weirton natives reflect on shooting

December 23, 2012
By CRAIG HOWELL - Special to the Herald-Star , The Herald-Star

For more than a week, the nation, and much of the world, has been sending its thoughts and support to Newtown, Conn., following a school shooting which claimed the lives of 20 children and six school employees.

Two Weirton natives are among those who have experienced the fear and turmoil of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, and witnessed the charity of others as the town has mourned.

Steve and Lisa Petrovich both grew up in Weirton and graduated from Weir High School where they were high school sweethearts.

They still have family in Weirton, including their mothers, Norma Battista and Dolores Petrovich, as well as several brothers and sisters.

For the last 18 years they have lived in the Sandy Hook area of Newtown, raising their family and becoming part of the tight-knit community.

"We moved up here 18 years ago around Christmas," Lisa explained in a telephone interview Friday morning.

Their three children, Stephen, Nicholas and Madalyn, all attended Sandy Hook Elementary and the family quickly became involved in the school's Parent Teacher Association and other activities. In fact, Lisa worked in the main office at Sandy Hook for several years.

"I just left there in January 2012," she said, explaining while she didn't personally know many of the students, she was close to many of the teachers and staff who were killed. "All of the adults I knew very well."

In particular, through her work in the school office, Lisa had known Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlock, and was very close to Victoria Soto, the 27-year-old first grade teacher who lost her life after hiding her students in a closet in an effort to save them.

"She was like my daughter at work," Lisa said, adding Soto often would ask her for advice and they would spend time together outside of work. "She was my buddy."

The day of the attack, Lisa said the school where she currently works was put into a precautionary lockdown.

"We didn't know what was going on," she explained. "There were a lot of sirens and helicopters."

Parents began calling into the school and she began hearing many of the rumors being reported. She said people began texting her to see if she was OK and if she knew anything about the shooting at Sandy Hook. Lisa, however, said she wanted to focus on making sure the students at her school were able to get home safely and decided not to listen to the reports until later in the day.

Steve works 40 miles away and was in a meeting with a client when their 19-year-old daughter Madalyn, a freshman at West Virginia University, called him to see if he had heard about the attack.

"I got in the car as quickly as possible," he said.

As word began to filter out of the community and around the world, the Petroviches began to hear the stories of heroism by the teachers.

"Knowing these people, it's not a surprise what they did," Steve stated of those who tried to protect the students.

In the days following the shooting, the Petroviches, along with others in the town, watched as the focus of the world turned toward what they called a "typical New England town."

Going into town, it became common to see news crews and volunteers coming from far and wide.

"You walk down there and you hear languages from all over the world," Lisa said.

Steve has seen some of that generosity firsthand as, during trips to the town's general store, he witnessed a first responder from California offer to buy everyone coffee one day and a woman from Arizona buy sandwiches on another.

Fire departments from across the United States have sent flowers, while other groups have been purchasing backpacks for the town's children. Someone from Texas paid for the coffins of everyone who was killed, Lisa explained.

"It's very supportive," Steve said. "It's very helpful to get through the grieving process."

That support has come from the Ohio Valley as well, with candlelight vigils held in Weirton and Beech Bottom as well as other communities. Lisa said her sister had been asked to send a donation from the Weirton Elks Lodge to help anyone who needs it.

The Petroviches sent a letter, which was read by their niece, Leah Crow, during the Weirton vigil, to thank everyone for their support.

 
 

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