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Parents, students emotional after shooting death of West Memphis teen - ‘Everyone is crying’

‘Everyone is crying’


‘Everyone is Crying’

Parents, students emotional after shooting death of West Memphis teen

By Ralph Hardin

I try not to inject myself into the news stories that I cover. In fact, I wasn’t really even thinking about it from a newspaper perspective, but my “reporter senses” began to tingle as I stepped out of my car at West Junior High School in West Memphis.

Details are still emerging about the early morning shooting death of a West Memphis teen, a 16-year-old who was, by all accounts, a well-liked student at West. A Friday in any junior high is usually a pretty upbeat scene, with teachers and students alike getting ready for the weekend.

But as I made my way down the sidewalk on West Barton Avenue approaching the school, it decidedly anything but jubilant. A line of parents trickled toward the front doors. More parents, with students in tow, trickled out of the exit. Many of the students showed signs of emotion — they were fighting back tears or in some cases, not even fighting.I wasn’t really in “reporter mode,” but I couldn’t help but overhear as I passed two parents who had stopped to chat on the sidewalk.

“It’s one thing when it’s grown folks shooting each other,” one said. “But a kid? That’s just messed up.”“They aren’t saying who it was,” the other commented. There was more, but I was really just trying to get inside. Not as a reporter for the Evening Times.

I was there to get my daughter.

I had first heard about the shooting earlier that morning. While it was troubling to hear about another senseless death in West Memphis, it didn’t occur to me at the time that it would have an emotional impact on anyone in my family. But a little before 9 a.m., I got a text from my youngest child.

“Can one of you come check me out?” she asked in the group texting chat she has with me and my wife, which she cleverly titled “Parents & the Fav.”

“What’s the matter?” I asked. I hadn’t connected the shooting with where the kid went to school or how it might affect others.

“We don’t have Solo and Ensemble any more,” she replied. It was a band event set for later in the day — one that, along with any other semblance of normal school activity was now canceled. “Literally everyone is crying, including me.”

That had been when it hit me… this wasn’t just another shooting in West Memphis. This wasn’t just another teenager getting shot and killed. This was a junior high kid… one that walked the same halls as my daughter every day. And someone had murdered him.

Needless to say, I quickly headed to West to collect my daughter, as well as one other student whose mother had asked that I check her out as well. And as I approached the door, it was clear that many other parents were making similar plans.

Inside, the usually empty foyer was buzzing with activity. There were a handful of West Memphis Police officers on the scene. Some were talking with school officials. Another had his arm around a student.

The school had mounted an excellent response to the tragedy. School counselors were walking and talking with students. They had brought in a few trained counselors from outside the school — grief counselors — to help distraught students process their emotions.

I saw one I recognized and approached him, asking how things were going.

“About what you’d expect,” he said. “It’s tough.”

I asked if he had spoken to any students who was friends with the kid who got killed, anyone who knew him.

“Today, everyone knew him, you know?” he said. I did know.

Eventually, it came my turn in line at the checkout desk, so I signed out the two girls I would be taking home and spoke briefly to the secretary. We go way back. Not only did we used to work together, I see her at least once a week taking something up to the school my daughter forgot at home or taking her lunch or whatever.

“It’s got to be tough,” I said to her once we made eye contact as she shuffled around her office, wading through a sea of kids and backpacks between her station and the intercom system. I guess “tough” is the go-to word in these kinds of situations.“I didn’t expect this crowd,” I said to the assistant principal, another person at West I go way back with.

“Pretty much everyone is going home,” he said. “We’re all just kind of dealing with whatever comes up.

”A young man I knew from his sister being on my daughter’s volleyball team was standing in the doorway of the office trying to put on a brave face.

“You OK? I asked.

“I’ll be alright,” he assured me.

“Did you know him?” I asked.

He told me they were on the basketball team together. I could only nod knowingly. He was obviously hurt emotionally and I did not want to exacerbate that.

“Do you need a ride home?” I asked.

“No,” he assured me and thumbed over at another student. “He was pretty good friends with Luke. Luke’s staying, so I’m staying.

”There were similar stories there at West, I’m sure. There were several clumps of students and teachers, all consoling each other. If not for the tragic circumstances, it would have been very inspiring to see students of all races and genders in such camaraderie.My daughter and her friend arrived at the office and we made our way out and back to the car.

“Let me know if you need anything,” the counselor I had spoken to told my daughter as we left. She smiled, red-eyed, looked up at him and said she would.It was a quiet walk back to the car. I decided to wait for them to say anything. They eventually started talking about the young man, his social media accounts, his friends and all the things that were going on at the school because of the shooting. They asked me a few questions. I answered them the best I could, shooting down a couple of rumors I could confirm were not true. Kids like to gossip as much as adults, I suppose. After a few niceties, I was really only left with one bit of insight.

“It’s tough.”

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