Freeman High School assistant football coach Tim Smetana shows his grief after he placed roses at a memorial to shooting victims at the school in Rockford. (Dan Pelle /The Spokesman-Review via AP)

Marysville educators reach out to a newly traumatized school

Several affected by shootings in 2014 offered to talk with counterparts in Eastern Washington.

MARYSVILLE — Superintendent Becky Berg was on the phone Wednesday with Dr. David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and crisis expert who has been working with Marysville schools.

They were talking about Oct. 24. It will be the three-year mark since the deadly school shooting at Marysville Pilchuck High School.

Student and staff mental health still is a concern. Grief doesn’t disappear in three years. The wounds left by the loss of five young lives haven’t healed.

Just after getting off the phone with Schonfeld, Berg saw the news out of Eastern Washington. A student had opened fire at Freeman High School, in a small community of Rockford, south of Spokane. At least one student was dead. More were injured.

“I felt it in my body,” she said. “It was a visceral response.”

She decided she was going over there, to offer what support she could from a district that had faced this type of tragedy before. Empire Health Foundation in Spokane offered to pay for travel. She was accompanied by Cheri Lovre, another crisis expert who has helped in Marysville. They stayed Wednesday through Friday.

Within 48 hours, Freeman High School students, staff, parents and alumni had meetings with district officials there. They started planning for Monday, the first day back to school after the shooting. The violence happened on the second floor. There were witnesses. And in a high school of roughly 300 students, the teens and staff knew everyone involved.

“You have to act quickly and methodically at the same time,” Berg said. “Freeman is a really tight-knit community. It shouldn’t happen anywhere, it should be shocking anywhere, but it’s especially shocking for a place like Freeman.”

From Marysville, teachers, a principal, a coach and a former member of student government, who served in 2014, offered to talk with their counterparts at Freeman High School. They can answer questions or be a shoulder to lean on.

Since 2014, when a 15-year-old killed four classmates, wounded one other and turned the gun on himself at Marysville Pilchuck High School, the district and community have learned a lot about grief and healing, Berg said. She hopes to share that with those affected by the Freeman High School shooting.

For example, people will try to drag the school district into debate about guns and government policy. That’s not a district’s area of expertise, she said. The focus needs to stay on the well-being of students and staff, offering mental health resources and working to make them feel safe again.

School violence anywhere can be an emotional trigger for students and staff in Marysville, and counseling is available, Berg said. She knows Freeman isn’t the first time those affected by the Marysville Pilchuck shooting have revisited their grief, and she doubts it will be the last.

Over the past few years, Berg has learned that grief is different for everyone. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health care. One certainty, though, is that healing takes time.

“It’s a very long process, and I don’t know what the end of the process looks like,” Berg said. “You can never replace the lives lost in Marysville and in Freeman. This isn’t something you get over. It’s something where you move forward.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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