WEST DEPTFORD, NJ -- Mary Sherlach looked forward to spending more time on Owasco Lake during her retirement.
She and her husband, Bill, owned a cabin along the Finger Lakes in upstate New York.
Mary Sherlach was one year away from retirement.
But on Friday morning, her life ended in the second most deadly school shooting in American history.
Sherlach, 56, was school psychologist at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, where a gunman opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. The gunman, identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, also killed his mother, who was a teacher at the school, according to reports. He died in the rampage at the school, bringing the death toll to 28.
Sherlach, who lived in Trumbull, CT, had worked at the school for more than 20 years, said her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, a freelance writer who covers high school sports for Patch in South Jersey.
Schwartz said by telephone Friday night that he and his wife, Maura, first learned of the shootings Friday morning after receiving a panicked phone call from Maura's sister, Katy.
"She was saying, 'Turn on the news, turn on the news,'" Eric Schwartz recalled.
At first, the couple was hopeful when a report indicated that only one person at the school had been shot, in the foot. But the news quickly turned grim.
Broadcast reports confirmed that the school's principal and psychologist had been killed in the shootings.
"It was a really helpless feeling," recalled Eric Schwartz, 28. "For about an hour, you try to say, 'They got it wrong, they got it wrong.'"
Eric and Maura Schwartz immediately drove to Connecticut from their home in Deptford, NJ.
"I still don't think anyone's fully grasped it," Eric Schwartz said from the Sherlach family's home Friday night. "It still doesn't feel real. It's hard to wrap your head around it."
The family was still waiting for more details about the shooting that took Mary Sherlach's life, he said.
'She wanted to help'
Mary Sherlach enjoyed her work at Sandy Hook, especially when she could get through to a struggling student.
"She wanted to help kids get over their problems and go on to be successful," Eric Schwartz said.
Mary Sherlach was an avid Miami Dolphins fan, and she could easily get riled up during a game, especially when her team wasn't performing well, her son-in-law recalled. He took good-natured ribbing from her for being a Buffalo Bills fan.
"She was very sharp and she had a very nice sense of humor," Eric Schwartz said. "She was opinionated, but in a good way."
Now, Eric Schwartz said, Mary Sherlach's family is left to ponder all the what-ifs.
"It’s not fair that she never gets to hold a grandchild. She went from getting up and going to work like any other day, to ... gone."
(Editor's note: An earlier version of this story spelled Katy Sherlach's first name incorrectly.)