Dorset Community Mourns Woman Killed In Las Vegas Concert Massacre

Oct 4, 2017

The shocking news from Las Vegas hit southwestern Vermont hard, after the community learned that a local woman was one of the 59 people killed at a country music concert Sunday.

Sandy Casey's family goes back generations in Dorset and Manchester. People in the area were reeling Tuesday as they came to grips with the fact that one of their own was taken away in the carnage that unfolded in Las Vegas.

Linda O'Leary remembers the last time her cousin Sandy Casey came home.

It was early in the summer and Casey was excited to come back to Dorset to tell her family about her engagement to Christopher Willemse.

"They had been out to New Zealand on a trip, and on the last day he got down on his knee and proposed," O'Leary said. "Needless to say, there were a lot of smiles and happiness."

Casey, 35, was one of the 59 people killed in Las Vegas Sunday when a gunman opened fire on a crowd at a county music concert.

"Sandy was doing so much good in this world. And to have it just taken away, from not only her family, but from her students and her colleagues, it's just not right." - Linda O'Leary

"At this point there's just total disbelief," O'Leary says. "And I think that's community wide. Not just with the family. Sandy was doing so much good in this world. And to have it just taken away, from not only her family, but from her students and her colleagues, it's just not right."

Casey moved out to California about 10 years ago where she worked as a special education teacher in the Manhattan Beach school district.

O'Leary, a retired school principal herself, says since Casey's death the family in  Vermont has heard from co-workers and families out in California.

"She had a love of students who had difficulties. She just loved them and wanted to help them, and  was incredibly patient with them," O'Leary said.  "Children are where we need to be putting some of this emphasis on keeping us all safe and living in a place where we don't have to worry about gun violence and shootings and sudden deaths."

Kathi Bierwirth grew up in Manchester, the next town over from Dorset, and  she says the Casey family is well known around southwestern Vermont.

Bierwirth says she remembers Sandy Casey's grandfather, who had a gas station. She says the Caseys are respected as a hard working, tight-knit, family.

"You know it's one of things where you see these tragedies on the news, and they seem removed," says Bierwirth. "This brings it home. It brings it back to this community. And I think sometimes we think we live in this bubble because we live in Manchester, Vermont, and we have this little safety new around us, and we don't. I mean it can happen anywhere."

Bierwirth was the athletic director at Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester when Casey went to school.

Bierwirth coached Casey in basketball her senior year.

 "Sandy is the type of girl who is just a real leader, both on and off the court," says Bierwirth. "She was a hard worker. She had this personality and you just couldn't like her. And she brought that personality, not just to basketball but to the whole school community, and to the lives that she touched."

Rob Hunter was Casey's English teacher at Burr and Burton.

He remembers Casey as en enthusiastic writer  who wasn't afraid to share her work and who was able to encourage her classmates to take risks too.

In Casey's senior yearbook she wrote, "Mr. Hunter, I'll keep on writing."

"These are senseless things," Hunter days. "I think for the nation, and maybe part of the world, we look on in horror as this man is mowing down people at a concert, and to even try to understand that in itself, even if you didn't know anybody there, is nearly impossible. So for the people here who are family, and knew Sandy, I don't know where to start."

A Go Fund Me page has been started to cover the funeral expenses for Sandy Casey.