A Town in Mourning

by Lady Justice

 

A school shooting occurred at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, United States, in the Houston metropolitan area, on May 18, 2018. Ten people – eight students and two teachers – were fatally shot and thirteen others were wounded. The suspected shooter was taken into custody and later identified by police as Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a 17-year-old student at the school.

The shooting is the second-deadliest school shooting in the United States in 2018, after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February resulted in 17 deaths and 17 injuries.

 

The shooter began firing a weapon into an art class at the school at around 7:40 a.m. The incident occurred in the school’s art complex which consists of four rooms connected to one another with interior hallways, and other rooms. Witnesses said the two targeted classrooms are connected by a ceramics room the shooter accessed by damaging a door window.

One wounded victim told reporters the shooter walked into the classroom and pointed at another person, saying “I’m going to kill you.”  According to a witness, students barricaded themselves in the art classroom storage closet, and the shooter shot through the door with a shotgun. He left the art room briefly, causing students to leave the closet and attempt to barricade the art room door, but he pushed the door open. Upon spotting a student he knew, he said “Surprise!” and shot the student in the chest.  Students are credited with giving victims medical attention in an effort to provide aid.

Police officers stationed at the school engaged with the shooter, with one officer being wounded and admitted in critical condition to a local hospital.  After shooting into the ceramics room, he was engaged by a Santa Fe school police officer and a Texas State Trooper who attempted to have him surrender peacefully.  He reportedly threatened to shoot the officers and repeatedly fired rounds while arguing with the police.  He surrendered to the officers after being injured during the shooting.  The Galveston County Sheriff said officers engaged him within four minutes, and allowed for the safe evacuation of other students and faculty.

Parents were kept off school grounds during the response to the shooting, with parents being directed to the Alamo gym by 8 AM. Students were then evacuated to the gym and reunited with their parents.

The shooter told police he meant to kill the classmates he shot and wanted to spare the students he liked, so he could “have his story told.” The shooting lasted about 25 minutes until he was arrested

Unlike other towns that welcomed the media, Santa Fe ran them out. They refused help. Which limited help and donations to families. They tried to cover up the problems, made excuses. Within hours of the shooting, after claims of bullying by coaches and before families knew if their loved ones made it, they were covering things up. They claimed an investigation was made and it was unsubstantiated, within a few hours? No one has been held accountable, no one has stepped aside, no commission has been put in place. Parkland has a commission investigating the shooting, searching for facts. Santa Fe has a rug and a broom.

The aftermath

When will this stop? When is enough, enough? When will you hear our voices, our cries our screams for help? These are the screams that every parent of every school shooting victim has every single night. Every day they fight for change, the fight to be heard, they fight to prevent anyone from having to have this happen to them again. They fight, and they are ignored. For almost two decades nothing has been done. Very little has changed, and the shootings still happen. Families are broken, dreams and futures are crushed and the powers that be turn the other check with no answers and no hope. Year after year, death after death we are still living this agonizing nightmare. Parents all over the county are seeking alternative education and all they get from the people they elected into power is indifference.

 

The Victims

Kimberly Vaughn: shy sweet and funny

 

Shana Fisher: a spit fire and always stood up for what she believed in

 

Angelique Ramirez: Unique and powerful, she maintained her individuality while showing love to others

 

Christian Garcia: involved in his community, was helping his family after Harvey and helped hold the door during the shooting to save others, he was a do the next right thing kind of kid.

 

Jared Black: Just turned 17, he was looking forward to his birthday party. He enjoyed simple pleasures in life.

 

Sabia Sheikh: A foreign exchange student from Pakistani that had high hopes and dreams of becoming a diplomat

 

Christopher Stone: A kid you couldn’t help but like. Someone that was infectious to be around and was a hero for helping protect others.

 

Aaron McLeod; The clown, the kid that always found a reason to laugh, that found humor in everything

 

These are the 8 angels who lost their lives and gained their wings on that fateful day in May, when unthinkable evil came to the small Texas town of Santa Fe. Eight bright eyed young people ripped from their family’s arms way before their time. They had hopes and dreams, they had things they wanted to accomplish. They are loved, and their lives do matter.

 

Two loving caring teachers also lost their lives that day.

 

Cynthia Tisdale: Mother of 4, and grandmother of 8 was tragically taken from her husband who had been fighting his own battle, which he sadly lost months after the brutal attack. Now all those who loved them both live each day, wondering why.  They enter the Holidays empty. Losing the leaders that made them whole.

 

Ann Perkins: Wife, mother, loving soul. She always saw the light in the darkness. She lived simply, loved hard and enjoyed being around the children. She chose to work; her Husband Steve has an emptiness he can’t fill since he had to let her go.

 

Thirteen others were wounded including Santa Fe Police Officer John Barnes

 

In the moments after the shooting was announced the community jumped into action. Pulled together. Reached out. People all over the town and surrounding areas stopped what they were doing and rushed to the high school to see what they could do.  Picking up car loads of scared kids who were told to run away from the school and take them to safety.  The Santa Fe police department arrived quickly and without hesitation confronted the shooter head on. The community didn’t sit back and wait while the immediate news stories reported limited information. They went in head first.

 

A complacent administration created an environment that contributed to the unthinkable act of horror that was unleashed on these unsuspecting students and teachers that day. An administration that refused to address bad behavior. Ignored reports of bullying, ignored reports of racism, ignored teachers who expressed concerns about the shooters daily attire of boots and a trench coat. An administration that to this day refuses to acknowledge there are any problems within their district. Despite the fact they have an academic F from the Texas Board of Education.

 

How do you ignore these things? How do you pretend like you don’t have serious problems? Parkland happened less than 3 months prior. The school had many warning signs that needed to be addressed, no proactive stand was taken, nothing was done to stop this. Instead it was brushed aside.

 

The art hall where this took place remains. Classes where moved but the counselors offices have replaced the art classes. Students and teachers walk a white hallway where tiles that were stained with the blood of their loved ones and friends have been replaced by red tiles. A blatant reminder of what happened. Despite public outrage and construction companies offering to donate the labor and tiles to fix the flooring, the red tiles remain. Do they have no compassion? How can they not see that this is traumatic? Do they expect them to accept this as their daily norm?

 

A community in mourning

 

No town is without their problems. Even though there are some very concerning things that happen in Santa Fe, there is also a very beautiful loving community that exist. A community that jumped into action during Harvey, without hesitation. While families throughout Galveston County were flooding people in the area used their own boats, trucks and trailers; risking their lives to take care of each other. They brought people to safety. People came together and donated supplies, offered up their homes to shelter people. May 18th was no different. The entire community was shaken. The entire community pulled together.

People throughout the surrounding areas came forward and offered love, they grieved and cried. Creative students made memorial pieces to recognize the lives lost too soon. Crosses were made for each victim and placed in front of the schools. Volunteers got together throwing benefits to raise money for the families to help with their expenses. The funeral home and JJ Watt offered to pay all the expenses. The town gathered in pray and embraced the mourning families.

In the wake of it all parents and spouses became pioneers for change. Volunteers from around the county developed committees designed to fight for the future. To fight to make sure this NEVER happens again. Some of the families are more vocal than others. Some choose to fight on the front line while others fight behind the scenes, but they won’t stop fighting.

 

   

Scot and Flo Rice

Flo was a substitute teacher that day. Her husband Scot was preparing to watch their grandson and had went back to bed. When his wife called, he was dazed to what she was saying. She said she had been shot? In a haze he called his daughter and said he couldn’t watch the baby, threw on his clothing from the day before and rushed to his wife’s aid. As he arrived at the shooting in progress, he saw his wife laying outside on the ground, next to her dear friend Ann Perkins, playing dead. As he rushed to her side the police stopped him, told him she was gone. He held up his phone said no she is alive, she called me. The officer immediately stopped the engagement with the shooter and helped Scot load his wife into the seat of the car, so he could rush her to the hospital for help.  With God’s grace Flo made it.  Even though she was badly injured, that she is suffering from physical and mental pain everyday they fight. Flo was a substitute teacher that day. She had zero training on what to do, she had no keys to lock the room. She was left completely unprepared to protect the children she loved working with so much. Just like that they were thrown into a completely different world. Today they are part of several groups that fight for change including Citizens United.

 

Steve and Ann Perkins

Sadly, Ann Perkins was one of two teachers who didn’t survive the deadly attack on May 18th. Ann loved the beach, she loved all things tropical, she loved her family and she loved being a teacher. Ann saved a student’s life that day, she pushed her out of the doorway and told her to run. Her instincts to protect a child cost her, her life. She made it outside where she laid with Flo Rice until help arrived, but God gave her wings that day. Ann’s Husband Steve of nearly 29 years fights tirelessly along others for change. Not only at a local level but at a state and hopefully national level. Making sure his wife’s death has meaning.

 

Rosie Stone

Mother of Chris Stone. By all accounts a well-liked kid throughout Santa Fe and neighboring communities. He loved life, liked to be silly, had a love for football and a caring heart. His compassion for other’s saved lives that day, by giving his own as he stood in front of the closet door holding it shut trying to protect the others who were hiding. His mom, Rosie, single mother of three has been among the most vocal about what happened that day. A founding member of Citizens United, she fights alongside the others demanding they identify the incompetence that lead to her losing her youngest child. Demanding they implement change.

 

Rhonda Hart

Mother of Kimberly Vaugh. Kim was a silly girl, with a childlike spirit. She enjoyed learning sign language and practiced it with her mother often. Rhonda was also a bus driver for SFISD. Rhonda spent that day loading kids up on her school bus and taking them to safety, not knowing if her daughter had made it out ok. Knowing that her daughter was in the art hall. Waiting for a call, that never came. Rhonda is also a very vocal mother. However, she doesn’t share a popular opinion in an area like Southeast Texas that loves their guns. Rhonda’s fight has been for common sense gun laws. Sadly, her battle has been met with anger by many. Her attempts to call out the NRA, confronting Ted Cruz at a campaign rally and not speaking very fondly about President Trump’s visit after the shooting. Rhonda has been attacked and bullied, forced to move out of Santa Fe. She was attacked by a school board member who made a post on his personal page mocking her efforts and claiming her military service was a lie.

 

Sonia Lopez

Mother of Sarah Salazar, who was badly injured in the attack but made a miraculous recovery. Sonia inspires people the world over with her positive outlook, and her daughter inspires people with her strength as she pushes ahead always with a smile on her face.

 

Deedra Van Ness

Mother of Isabelle Laitance. Deedra shared a heroic story of her daughters experience that day. Her daughter was one of 20 who managed to survive the massacre without physical injury. Her daughter was locked in the closet terrified as her friends took their last breath. Despite the fact her daughter is severely traumatized, and it will take years of therapy to help her heal from the PTSD of the experience, Deedra is vocal and actively involved helping to fight for change. Her rational take on things is inspiring. She manages to push through every day with a brave smile and a level-headed mind, with the attempt to see things from every angle.

The stories of bravery and inspiration could continue for pages. So many wonderful people in the area have pulled together, to say “we aren’t going to take this anymore”. Several other groups have formed in addition to Citizen’s United. Santa Fe safety Shootings and Concerns, POP Community Committee Group, Santa FE ISD shooting discussion, Santa Fe, TX Parents-Protecting our Athletes and Students along with various other groups of private citizens that have dedicated their time, passion, love and anger to fighting against policies that contributed to this heinous act, an incompetent and an administration that is indifferent to what happened. They are working on programs that will help with conflict resolution, addressing BULLYING, better training for staff, better understanding for students and parents. They are working on programs that would provide better safety protocol in the future. They can be seen at the school board meetings, on the news or even at the Governor’s office. They are driven by a passion that is fueled with love, pain and anger and will not stop until they are successful.

A community healing

In the months after the tragedy chances were made. They established the Santa Fe Resiliency center, run by beloved long-term resident Carol Gaylord. Carol is working tirelessly to find ways to help the community heal and bring in help that will prevent this from happening again. Jason Tabor, a young lifelong resident and business owner, ran for mayor shortly before the shooting. Winning the election his predecessor stepped aside and he was sworn in days after the shooting, bravely taking on the weight of a towns pain. Cowboy Saltgrass Church has been implementable in organizing charity events to help the families in need. Despite a heated battle metal detector where installed, although they still need work in monitoring them a better implementing a security system. During the most recent elections two board members have changed. There is hope that is a start. New minds and new eyes may bring things into a better place. However, it does require they listen.

Is it enough? Many of the students and teachers don’t feel safe. Enrollment is dropping, students a child alike don’t feel like enough is being done. Alternative educations are becoming more and more an option. The school board still sits silent and still makes excuse and now is the time for action, not excuses. No more. No more children should die, no more teachers should be taken because the people in power won’t wake up.

Does Santa Fe have some serious issues they need to accept and address? Absolutely. They also have the power to do it with the people that reside there. The south may have some bad history, but it also has a lot of charm. Kids are raised to refer to people as sir or ma’am. Friday night lights is the biggest event of the week, watching your local football stars go out there and get it done. Deep frying chicken, boiling craw-fish and drinking beer. Sweet potato pies. Church on Wednesday evening and Sunday morning. A strong sense of Pride, a love of this country, a love for hunting, fishing and fire arms. A willingness to stand together in the darkest of times.

 

They continue to pretend like there are no issues, they continue to cover up the truth. Dr wall continues to get raises despite proof of her inability to properly run a school. Zero reports have come out that have detailed the ongoing problems within the school long before the shooting.  In order to fix the problems, we must admit they exist. This community has proved time and time again that they have the strength and ability to do achieve the impossible. You first must open your eyes, your heart, you must look beyond yourself and accept that your life is not perfect. Remember their lives matter. They should not die in vain. Together we can. SANTAFESTRONG