Husband of Newtown victim remembers wife as hero

(CBS News) NEWTOWN, Conn. -- After 31 years of marriage, Bill Sherlach says he and his wife had fallen into a routine -- every morning pretty much the same.

However, for whatever reason, on the morning of December 14, Bill did something different.

Bill Sherlach
Bill Sherlach
CBS News

"She was coming across the kitchen floor, and I grab her and I give her a big hug and we had a big kiss," he says. "Now most mornings, it's grab the coffee, out the door, what's on the schedule. Not that morning. Not that morning."

It's the only consolation in what has been an otherwise inconsolable new year.

"There's just a huge part that's gone," Bill says.

Later that day, 56-year-old school psychologist Mary Sherlach became one of the six adult victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.

Watch: President Obama honors Newtown victims, below.

On Friday in Washington, D.C., all six were posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, one of our country's highest civilian commendations.

"They gave their lives to protect the children in their care," President Barack Obama said during the ceremony. "That's what we honor today, the courageous heart, the selfless spirit, the inspiring actions of extraordinary Americans."

Although we may never know exactly what happened inside the school that day, we do know this about Mary: she was at a meeting, heard gunfire and ran toward it. That's what makes her a hero to most of us. But to her husband, she'd already earned that title long before.

Complete Coverage: Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings

By the time they met in college, Mary had already decided she wanted to work helping people. She took some time off to raise their two girls but eventually got her master's in psychology and then her dream job at Sandy Hook.

"When she started working with these kids, it was her mission," Bill says.

Kristine Feda
Kristine Feda
CBS News

"If they were having a tough day they could go see Mary," says Kristine Feda, who worked with Mary and was with her when the shooting started.

"She went out to check it out and protect and see what was happening, knowing that something wasn't right," she says.

This week, Bill went to the warehouse where they've been storing all the cards and gifts that have been pouring in from around the world for the victims' families.

"I thought my vehicle was big enough but it's not going to be. It's a lot of stuff," Bill says.

He's at a place where he can start to go though some of it, but he says he's a long way from completely accepting any of it.

"You'll catch yourself," he says. "Something -- 'I wonder what Mary is going to think about this. ... Oh.' It's like those big pink erasers you had in elementary school. Someone just went -- just erased her."

Asked if any good will ever come from the tragedy, Bill replies, "There better be. It's a tremendous waste, if it's not."

For information on how to contribute to the foundation honoring Sandy Hook Elementary School psychologist Mary Sherlach, or to support victims' families and the Newtown community, please visit fccfoundation.org.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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