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News / Northwest

‘We care’: Adults welcome Garfield students back after shooting

By Jenn Smith, The Seattle Times
Published: June 12, 2024, 7:41am

It was a lot to take in Tuesday morning at Garfield High School. It was students’ first day back after losing their classmate, Amarr Murphy-Paine, 17, to gun violence in front of their school last week. Dozens of elected officials, community outreach workers, teachers and families were there, under broken clouds and spurts of rain, to welcome students back.

The mood was mixed. Some people arrived with somber expressions and bundles of flowers in their hands to lay at an expanding memorial for Murphy-Paine. It sits on the base of the steps leading to the school’s entryway, a few feet from where the teen took his last breaths. No one has been arrested for his death.

Other students were more curious about the gathering, dubbed, “We are here, and we care.” They paused on their way in to take pictures or listen to the speeches, thoughts and prayers.

Some students arrived escorted by their parents. Others came in groups, walking quietly arm-in-arm. Some shook their heads and speed-walked past the crowd into the school, surrounded by adults who were clapping for them or shouting, “We love you!”

Chukundi Salisbury Sr., a community leader and parent who emceed Tuesday’s welcome event, encouraged participants to join and support the movement “100 Black Parents,” which has put parent-leaders in schools like Garfield to support students since 2016.

He got the crowd to chant, “There’s no such thing as somebody else’s child,” as he called for them to get involved and stay involved in helping all kids and teens make positive life choices.

Research shows that a purposeful welcome back to the building and return to a familiar routine can help students reeling from the trauma of having a classmate killed on campus, but various speakers at the event called for more action to protect students and prevent future violence.

This is the second shooting of a Garfield student near campus this year. A girl was shot in the leg in March while waiting for her bus near the school. And security was also heightened around the school last June after three shootings in the neighborhood raised fears and concerns in the school community.

Standing underneath a tent in a staging area in front of the school Tuesday morning, Seattle Public Schools officials added their voices to the gathering. Superintendent Brent Jones told the small crowd that now is the “season for healing.” And Garfield Principal Tarance Hart encouraged people to “continue to lift and support the Murphy-Paine family” as they lean on one another.

Several changes have been made for the rest of the school year. It is unclear which, if any, will be permanent. For now, though:

  • A mix of private and school security specialists and Seattle police will be present outside Garfield.
  • Students will no longer be able to leave campus or order meal delivery during the lunch period.
  • There will be no penalty for absences if parents notify the school and fill out a form within two days.

The school district will also provide drop-in counseling for students who want to speak to a mental health professional.

Many were using that care on Tuesday, which was available in several rooms of the high school, said Stephanie Edler, the district’s program manager for mental health. Additional counseling will also be provided over the coming weekend through a partnership with the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.

After the crowd and news crews departed, the school day began with students having the opportunity to process their emotions in small groups, in front of teachers who they’ve known all year.

“One of the messages sent to staff was the importance of a consistent experience at school,” said Kai Kunkel, a social emotional learning program manager for Seattle Public Schools.

Some families have pulled their children from the school since last week’s fatal shooting, but other students are insisting to their anxious parents that Garfield is the place for them. Sandra Hebert, whose son is a Garfield freshman, said he and other students want to stay and not give in to the fear. Hebert’s family also goes to church with the Murphy-Paine family.

“I think some of them feel that Amarr would want them to continue here,” she said. Her plan for now is to check in with her son “a lot” and pray.

After the deadly shooting of a student at Seattle’s Ingraham High in 2022, increased mental health support was available at the school for around a month. And more access to therapy was available for students the rest of the year, according to Bev Redmond, a district spokesperson.

Student activists are demanding the expansion of in-school mental health care outside of crisis moments. Therapists in Seattle schools are overworked and it’s difficult to get an appointment, said Natalya McConnell, a student at Franklin High School and co-founder of the Seattle Student Union, a group of student activists who are demanding additional funding on mental health and for increased gun control.

Seattle isn’t the only community that lost students to gun deaths last week.

King County Executive Dow Constantine, in his annual State of the County speech on Tuesday, called for “100 Days of Action” on gun violence, in reaction to the shooting deaths last week of Murphy-Paine and two other high school students: Cristopher Medina Zelaya, who was killed across the street from Kent-Meridian High School, and Hazrat Ali Rohani, also a Kent-Meridian student, who was killed outside a sporting goods store in Renton.

Last year, Constantine launched a new county Office of Gun Violence Prevention, an effort to expand violence-intervention services already underway, especially in South King County. He said the city of Seattle may collaborate on the campaign.

Leaders of the office recently returned from a meeting at the White House, Constantine said, where “They heard from several jurisdictions that are seeing positive results from short, intensive violence prevention campaigns.”

Details of the new effort remain sparse, but Constantine’s office said it would include promoting access to mental health support, boosting collaboration among government agencies and supporting programs like the county’s Regional Peacekeepers Collective, which works to make early connections with those seen as most likely to perpetrate gun violence, especially those who have been victims themselves.

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell was also in front of Garfield, his alma mater, this morning.

“This violence is unacceptable,” he said. “There are too many guns out here in the wrong hands.”

The mayor didn’t detail a plan to address access to guns.

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