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Penn State Student Shares Connection to Sandy Hook Tragedy, Helps Plan Vigil

by on December 13, 2013 2:01 PM

Aviva Doery was a freshman in high school when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened.

Doery, now a freshman at Penn State, was inside her high school gym, just miles from Sandy Hook, when the gunman opened fire and took 26 lives, including 20 children.

This Saturday will be the one-year anniversary of the massacre. Doery and local resident Anne Ready organized a vigil for 7 p.m. on the steps of Old Main at Penn State.

Leading up to the anniversary, Doery also shared her story with

As small amounts of information came into her school that, by way of students' cell phones, Doery slowly learned there was a school shooting. She assumed, it was at Sandy Hook High School. She began calling friends who attended the school.

She never imagined it was happening at an elementary school less than 10 miles from her own school, Masuk High School in Monroe, Conn.

Soon, administrators placed her school on lockdown. There was confusion and worry. Teachers stopped instructing, some were crying.

"It was very emotional. It was awful," Doery says.

As information gradually came into her school, Doery did the only thing she could. She volunteered to help as the student government organized blood drive in the gym. She decided to stay there even after officials lifted the lockdown.

"We couldn't really do anything, so we thought best thing to do was to continue the blood drive because it was a way to make a difference," Doery says. "It gave me something to do so I didn't have to think about what was going on. We were all in shock. For me it was too much to handle. I didn't want to leave school. I thought the blood drive was important and it was a way to detach myself and still help. I think it gave everybody a little more of a purpose."

Doery attended synagogue in Newtown and was very much connected to the town. A friend she went to Hebrew School with lost his younger brother that day.

One day, shortly after the shooting, Doery and her Hebrew class went to the family's home to participate in the Jewish mourning process for the death of a child. Until then, Doery said she lived a "cookie cutter" life in a "sheltered town."

"It was really hard to go and awful to see how it impacted a family. ... It was also very eye opening," Doery says.

After great tragedy, Doery says she also witnessed amazing acts of caring in her community. For example, the Monday following the shooting she said every person in her high school wore green attire in support of Sandy Hook.

Then, Doery's school district offered a vacant middle school as an alternative school for Sandy Hook students. Within days, the community renovated the building for the children.

"It was so amazing to see my town come together as a community because we were all hurting, too. It was close to home," Doery says. "We just wanted to help."

Saturday, the State College community will join Doery to remember the lives lost on Dec. 14, 2012.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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