Saugus teacher recognized for heroism during shooting

Kaytie Holt stands with Maglite inventor Anthony Maglica and American Tactical Defense co-owner Bryan McKenrick after receiving her recognitions Tuesday. Courtesy photo.

The Saugus High School teacher who helped save a victim of November’s deadly shooting at the school was recognized for her heroism this week.

A tactical company that trains teachers and the well-known flashlight company that sponsors the training honored Saugus music teacher Kaitlin “Kaytie” Holt, who was in the middle of her class when shots rang out on the school campus.

American Tactical Defense, a school-safety training company, and Maglite, the American flashlight company that supports the school training, wanted to recognize Holt’s courageous actions during the shooting.

Before she locked down her classroom with 30-40 students, a wounded 14-year-old female student “wandered” into her room, looking for both refuge and help. In an op-ed she published with The Signal two weeks after the shooting, she said she made “no choices,” but rather she reacted.

With the training she had received, along with the help of “a really brave freshman,” they helped the wounded girl using her one and only “Stop the Bleed” kit. However, after investigating further, she discovered the student had been shot twice — once in the side and another time in the shoulder.

Using the kit to address one wound, Holt maintained pressure on the other wound and waited until law enforcement could arrive.

As a result of the shooting, two students were killed, and the shooter died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The student Holt treated eventually recovered from her physical wounds at the hospital.

“I did learn training with (American Tactical Defense) in my student teaching,” Holt said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The training she received from American Tactical Defense began at the beginning of her career, and involved drills, videos and hands-on-instruction from experts on what to do in the event of a school shooting, she said.

After American Tactical Defense, which organizes training to school staff around the country, had heard of Holt’s involvement in their exercises and what she had done on Nov. 14, they felt it right to award her with the Civilian Hero Award on Tuesday.

This was the second “Civilian Hero Award” given out by Maglite, and the first given out by ATD. Maglite’s first “Civilian Hero Award” winner Gary Fishbone, a New Jersey man who helped lead a group of people out of the World Trade Center to safety during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York using a Mini Maglite flashlight, according to Maglite’s official company website.  

ATD co-owner Bryan McKenrick, a federal law-enforcement agent himself, said that her testimony, of using the training that she had learned in a real-life situation, was the first one he had heard of in his experience as a head instructor.

“For us first responders, we sign up for a job knowing that we’re going to put others before our own lives,” said McKenrick over a phone call Wednesday. “And for someone that didn’t sign up for something like that to take it upon themselves and react without hesitation to save another life … that’s completely heroic.”

In the wake of the event, Holt has consistently downplayed the “hero” label many have offered, instead highlighting the actions of her peers who played a role at the epicenter of the attack.

After the shooting, Holt, who’s also the daughter of Signal staff writer Jim Holt, was able to take some time away from work. She got a tattoo of a Saugus Centurion, with the word “Strong” written on her left arm in the handwriting of the girl she saved.

“I would say for me, personally, every day is getting a little bit better, but there’s just a certain amount of little PTSD things,” said Holt. “I did an escape room, and that had gunshots in it, and it was kind of rough … I just try and stay very positive and keep looking at pictures I have of my two girls that survived, and that makes me smile.

“My students make me smile, so I just keep thinking about my students and thinking on the bright side of things as best I can.”

She described herself as a “little girl,” in reference to her physical size, but the training taught her how to defend herself or use the things around her to increase her chance of surviving such an ordeal.

“I mean, ‘prepared’ isn’t the right word either, because I don’t think you can ever be prepared for that,” Holt said. “But knowing some of the things that if I were, say, in a situation where I would actually have to engage with someone, I think I just saw a little more confidence after having the training, which allowed me to be calmer in the situation.”

She received the award at Maglite’s headquarters in Ontario, where she was smiling as she went up, in front of the cameras, to receive her recognition.

Holt, in an effort to help support her students and music program following the shooting, has opened a page in order to raise funds for more microphones for their performances.

“Our choirs are hoping to get the funds for more microphones. All of our choirs use these microphones, especially jazz choir and show choir,” Holt’s page says. “Having enough microphones, so students don’t have to share (two people singing into one microphone), is essential for great choral sound, blend, and equity of voices.”

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