Hours after a gunman’s attack claimed three young lives and shattered the nighttime quiet of her tranquil city, Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson made a thoughtful plea. She asked for “a little grace and a little space.”
Her request came Saturday, before police had confirmed that the shooting victims were 19-year-olds Anna Bui, Jordan Ebner and Jake Long, all 2015 graduates of Kamiak High School. Will Kramer, 18, also was injured in the attack.
Another 2015 Kamiak graduate, 19-year-old Allen Christopher Ivanov, has been charged with three counts of aggravated murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder in the shootings that Gregerson said happened a half-mile from her home.
Gregerson, a 1996 Kamiak graduate, displayed during Saturday’s press conference both compassion for the victims’ families and gratitude for the response by police and paramedics. Her appeal for grace and space was in part a reaction to social media speculation and premature reports based on that frenzy.
“The Daily Mail in the UK was the worst,” said Gregerson, adding that one reporter used Twitter to contact teens with anything to say about the victims or the suspected shooter.
Now, nearly a week after the killings at a Mukilteo house party, the 38-year-old mayor reflects upon the lives lost and the life of her community.
Mukilteo is the place that lured Gregerson back after she graduated with a degree in French from New York University. Her parents still live in her girlhood home. She commutes to City Hall by bicycle, making her an easily recognizable leader in her hometown.
It was shortly after 2 a.m. Saturday, about two hours after the attack, when Gregerson arrived at City Hall. She and other city officials were hearing terrible updates from the crime scene.
“I have the 2015 Kamiak yearbook in my office,” Gregerson said. By 3 a.m., she was looking at the victims’ faces in the yearbook.
“Looking at their senior pictures, and seeing Anna’s picture in the group choir photo, I was relating to those kids through my memories of being their age,” she said. “I was thinking of their experiences in high school. That’s what I thought about that morning.”
The mayor knows she has a role as Mukilteo grieves and as it begins to heal.
“Running for office, you know there could be significant events. But there’s no way to prepare for something like this,” Gregerson said.
At a community vigil Sunday, the father of the injured teen spoke to her. “Paul Kramer, Will Kramer’s dad, told me that I represent a pillar of strength,” Gregerson said. “That was very moving and meaningful to me. What I hope to show is a calm strength, and to show that we can move forward and recover.”
Some at the vigil wanted her to speak publicly about guns. Gregerson said she had some good conversations with them. “There’s anger around that. But right now I feel a duty not to use the grief of those families for political reasons,” she said. Although she has a personal position on gun laws and a zeal for tackling domestic violence issues, “this week isn’t the time to talk about those things.”
“Individuals need to grieve and mourn and give space to families to do that,” she said.
Along with serving as mayor, Gregerson is an independent sales representative for Herff Jones Yearbooks, a national company that prints yearbooks for schools. The company prints Kamiak’s yearbook. Gregerson said she met recently with Marysville Pilchuck High School seniors about their 2017 yearbook.
“We just had a workshop with those kids,” she said. Noting the 2014 shootings at that school, Gregerson said one girl didn’t want her Marysville Pilchuck yearbook to be marked by tragedy. “She said she wants it to be a message about how they’re strong but also normal,” Gregerson said.
Since last weekend’s violence, Gregerson has heard from leaders around the region offering support for Mukilteo. “Some remind me to take care of myself,” she said. “And everyone I run into in the city shares words of encouragement.” Local businesses have dropped off flowers and pizza at City Hall, she said.
“When I was in high school, I wanted to go to the big city,” Gregerson said. Coming home after her first year at NYU, in the summer of 1997, she saw her community anew. “When I was the same age as those kids, I was growing to understand my appreciation for the friends and family I had here.”
In asking for grace and space, she thought first of the victims’ families, but it was also for her hometown.
“I’m hurting, too,” Gregerson said. “We’re all hurting.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.