Visitors file into Pearson Auditorium for the Stand Together, Heal as One program as students from Arapahoe High School in Colorado paid a visit to console students from Berrendo Middle School, Saturday. (Mark Wilson Photo)
A group of students from Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo. visited with Berrendo Middle School students and families Saturday to offer support following the Jan. 14 shooting at the middle school.
Arapahoe saw its own school shooting Dec. 13, when senior Karl Pierson shot student Claire Davis and killed her, before turning the gun on himself.
The 15 Colorado teenagers who came together on the stage of Pearson Auditorium provided Berrendo students with advice for getting through the trauma of a campus shooting.
“In order to find healing and to find a new normal, you have to find joy,” Arapahoe student David Courtney told the audience.
The high schoolers advised Berrendo students to look to their families, school and community for support. They told them to express their emotions however they felt best, whether it be crying, writing or something else.
They also encouraged them to consider daily routines as a form of catharsis and way to return to normalcy.
“Go to the place that you were … just walk around your school and just kind of reacquaint yourself,” one Arapahoe student advised.
The Arapahoe group said the best thing families can do is stand back, be patient and express availability for support.
Saturday’s convening was the result of collaboration between Courtney and Berrendo grandparent Melissa Urban. The teenagers’ trip from Colorado to New Mexico was funded with money raised online through a web page set up by City Council candidate Natasha Mackey.
Roswell Independent School District Superintendent Tom Burris told TV station KOB last week that he discouraged the event because the Arapahoe students are not trained to speak with middle school students about emotional incidents.
Urban said during the Pearson Auditorium gathering that she did not feel negativity toward the district for not supporting the visit.
“I know they have their reasons,” she said.
Anticipation of intense moments spurred event organizers to limit media presence. Cameras and recorders were forbidden to be used inside the auditorium.
Students from both schools, as well as Roswell families in attendance, expressed a wide range of emotions during a question and answer period facilitated by the high school students.
A mother of a Berrendo student asked the Arapahoe group whether they had reached out to the family of the shooter.
“Have you guys turned to the family of the young man who did this?” she said, beginning to cry. She quickly apologized for asking.
“Ma’am, what’s your name?” asked Courtney.
“Nelly,” the woman replied.
“Nelly, don’t be sorry,” he said.
He walked over to her and hugged her. His classmates spilled from the edge of the stage where they sat dangling their legs. What started as a brief exchange between two individuals grew into a group hug. The room softly bubbled with laughter.
Other speakers at the event included Anthony Miranda, uncle of the 11-year-old boy with severe gunshot wounds, and the boy’s parents, who spoke to the audience via a telephone hooked to auditorium speakers.
Miranda came to represent the families of both children who were wounded. The family of the other gunshot victim, 13-year-old Kendal Sanders, did not attend.
Natasha Mackey read from the Bible and led the audience in prayer.
The grief share session ended with a video of Arapahoe students giving words of support to children at Berrendo. Plaques were then presented to the Arapahoe students and relatives of the boy wounded at Berrendo.
Arapahoe students stayed after the event to continue speaking with students and parents, and to share another group hug.