By Alan Keays, VTDigger
A Vermont native who earned high school and college degrees in the state before becoming a middle school special education teacher in California is among those killed in the worst mass shooting in the nation’s history Sunday night in Las Vegas.
Sandy Casey, 35, was born and raised in Dorset, the daughter of Teresa and Steven Casey. She was a 2000 graduate of Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in special education from the College of St. Joseph in Rutland.
“She was a beautiful girl and a beautiful person,” her mother said late Monday afternoon from her home in Dorset.
Teresa Casey then referred additional comments to her cousin, Linda O’Leary, who provided a statement on behalf of the family.
According to the statement, the family was informed early Monday morning that Sandy Casey, who had living in Redondo Beach, Calif., died at the scene of the Las Vegas shooting while attending a country music festival with her fiancé and a friend.
“Her parents ask for prayers and privacy for her sisters, coworkers, students and large extended family,” the statement read.
Christopher Willemse, who was engaged to Casey, posted a smiling photo of the couple on his Facebook page earlier Monday morning.
“As I sit and mourn such a beautiful life gone too fast, all i can say is look up and watch the birds fly high and free today as that’s where I feel you smiling down upon all of us,” the posting read. “I love you baby girl! Love you to pieces!”
At least 59 people were killed and more than 500 injured when police said a gunman, Stephen Craig Paddock, opened fire Sunday night from the 32nd floor of a hotel room overlooking the concert venue, according to the Associated Press. The 64-year-old Nevada resident then killed himself, the AP reported.
News that Sandy Casey was among those fatally shot by the gunman was announced Monday morning in the school where she worked in California as well as in the high school she graduated from in Manchester.
Burr and Burton held a moment of silence Monday morning in her honor during a weekly assembly in the school’s gymnasium after students and staff were informed by the acting headmaster, Meg Kenny, that Casey was had been killed.
In California, the Manhattan Beach Unified School District said in a statement issued by Superintendent Mike Matthews that Casey has been a special education teacher at the Manhattan Beach Middle School for the past nine years.
“She is loved by students and colleagues alike and will be forever remembered for her sense of humor, her passion for her work, her devotion to her students, and her commitment to continuing on her own learning and to taking on whatever new projects came her way,” the superintendent wrote.
“She has made a tremendous difference in the lives of her students, and their families, many of whom worked with her over multiple years.”
Lawrence Jensen, College of St. Joseph president, said in a statement issued Monday night that the college community is “shocked and saddened” to hear that a member of the “CSJ family” was killed in the Las Vegas shooting.
“We join her classmates and fellow alumni in heartbreak at the loss of Sandy. When tragedy occurs, we are fortunate to have one another to lean on, to talk to and to help us through the toughest of times,” the statement read.
“Many of her classmates and friends have taken to social media and expressed their grief,” the statement added. “In that grief, they have painted a picture of a wonderful woman, teacher and fiancee, a beloved classmate and friend.”
Former BBA girls high school basketball coach Steve Houghton said Monday evening that he coached Casey during her junior year, his last year in the post.
“She was just a sweet kid,” he said. “She was a real good teammate, I thought, and she seemed to never have had any lows where she would not be happy in practice. She was kind of a bubbly upbeat person.”
Houghton said he learned Monday morning that Casey was among those killed in the shooting.
He added, “It just sad day for the Casey family, it’s a sad day for the Burr and Burton community and it’s a sad day for our country.”
Sandy Casey and her fiancé, Christopher Willemse, are shown in this undated photo. Casey, a Dorset native, was among the at least 59 people killed Sunday in Las Vegas.