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Cops: Teacher's death in S. Phila. hotel bathroom likely suicide

Knife, scissors were found near body, and a suicide note was left in the elementary school where she taught.

Amy Persky Newman, 48, was a beloved teacher at Francis Scott Key for 20 years.
Amy Persky Newman, 48, was a beloved teacher at Francis Scott Key for 20 years.Read moreGoogle Maps

WHEN PUPILS and teachers return to the halls of South Philly's Francis Scott Key Elementary School this morning, it will be under a cloud of grief.

Amy Persky Newman, 48, a beloved teacher at Key for 20 years, died yesterday on the fourth day of the new school year.

Preliminary evidence indicated that the sixth-grade teacher took her own life inside a public bathroom on the lobby floor of the Holiday Inn Stadium, on Packer Avenue near 10th Street in South Philly, police said. A suicide note was found at the school, a police source said.

Officers found Newman inside a locked bathroom stall just after 8 a.m., a steak knife and a pair of scissors at her feet, police said. She had been stabbed several times in her neck, breast and arms, and was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in critical condition.

At 3:40 p.m., after undergoing surgery, she was pronounced dead.

The police source said that Newman reported to Key, at 8th Street near Wolf, at her normal time yesterday morning, but stormed out after a heated telephone conversation.

She drove about a mile south to the hotel and rushed inside, leaving her purse in her car, and walked directly to a first-floor bathroom a few feet from a packed conference room.

Minutes later, one of the conference's attendees notified hotel staff that she saw blood pooling in one of the stalls. When hotel staff investigated, they found that the stall was locked.

When they opened it, they found Newman and immediately called police.

The police source said the woman who reported seeing blood was the first person to enter the bathroom after Newman.

Shortly after she died, investigators found what appeared to be a suicide note at the school, the source said.

"The entire school community is very much in shock," said district spokesman Fernando Gallard, who declined to confirm Newman's identity. "This is a very difficult time for them."

Gallard said that grief counselors would be made available to pupils and faculty at Key.

Last night, current and former students, parents and colleagues shared their grief on social media, posting photos of Newman and expressing a mix of sadness and shock.

In telephone interviews with the Daily News, two former students and a former faculty colleague spoke of her with respect and affection.

"She loved kids so much," said Sophary Sokhon, 15, who had Newman as a math teacher. She recalled how Newman had taken time to help and encourage her when she struggled, and described her as a "cool teacher" who was well-liked and protective of her pupils.

"She was a very special teacher to me. . . . She was more like a mother," the teen said.

Former pupil Frank Noce, 21, called Newman a major figure from his time at Key.

Noce recalled meeting Newman while waiting in the hallway after he had gotten in a fight with another student. She gave him a bag of chips and a soda and helped to calm him, he said.

"She was a great family woman, and I'm just saddened by this loss," Noce said. "She was like a big part of my childhood growing up, and now it's like that part of my childhood is gone."

Lisa Smith, a former co-worker, said she was surprised because Newman always seemed upbeat and cheerful.

"[She was] a very sociable person, fun to work with, very uplifting. I've never noticed any strange behavior," she said. "She was a very good teacher and is going to be sorely missed."

Last night, neighbors gathered outside Newman's home on a quiet cul-de-sac in Newtown, Bucks County. Tearful and confused, they declined to speak with a reporter.