They’ve joined the most horrific of fraternities.
When a Freeman High School student allegedly shot and killed sophomore Sam Strahan and injured three other students, the small rural district joined the ranks of San Bernardino, Sandy Hook and Marysville.
Almost immediately, assistance flowed in to the school. Material support. Counseling services. A blueprint for recovery and healing.
Becky Berg, superintendent of the Marysville School District, where a school shooting occurred in 2015, arrived at Freeman a day after the violence. She told interim Principal Harry Amend: “You’ve joined a fraternity that you’ve never wanted to be part of. But you’re part of it for life.”
On Friday, more than a week after the tragedy occurred, top school officials sat down with reporters to share their version of the events of the shooting and the aftershocks that followed.
As advice and support flowed in from outside, they said, the Empire Health Foundation organized and arranged for counselors to come to the school. A five-year recovery plan is being developed, said Superintendent Randy Russell.
When students returned to class for the first time Monday, therapy dogs, counselors, food and other support was waiting for them.
Still, the trauma from the shooting remained just beneath the surface.
David’s Pizza catered lunch for the entire school. While setting up the meal, a metal pan crashed to the floor.
“I can tell you there was an involuntary muscle response in just about everybody,” Amend said.
On Thursday, counselors visited with every staff member, Amend said.
Over the next few weeks, other local school districts are sending some staff to Freeman. That will allow the school’s staff to take a day off. On Tuesday, the second day back at school, Amend said, staff and students were just plain tired.
“I think a lot of what we saw was fatigue,” he said. “Just blanker looks.”
On the day of the shooting, Sept. 13, Amend was standing near the stairway leading to the second floor just before school was scheduled to start. Amend was scanning the hallways and greeting students, much like he does every day.
At that time, Amend said, most students already were in their classrooms.
That’s when Caleb Sharpe allegedly opened fire on the second floor of the small, rural high school.
“We heard some noises that did not sound to any of us like gunshots,” Amend said. “It was not like a firecracker, and it wasn’t like a silencer. It was almost like a scruffy, muffled kind of a sound. And there were a couple, rapid-fire.”
Up and down the hallways classroom doors slammed shut. Students from the second floor came “flowing down the stairs,” Amend said.
Students were “very panicked,” Amend said. “They were heading straight for the door and a couple of kids said ‘There is a gun. There is a gun.’ And so we knew. We knew what had happened.”
Students fled toward two predetermined places, the bus barn and elementary school. Both are across the street from the high school, and are included in the school’s emergency response plan, Russell said.
Shortly after, the shooter was disarmed and in police custody. That’s when law enforcement and school officials started accounting for the children. Parents started to arrive, and the rest of the tragedy began to unfold.
“Parents were amazing,” Amend said. “They were patient.”
And, in its own way, the tragedy has brought the already close community closer. On Monday, most of the senior class offered to trade lockers with the freshman and sophomore classes. Why? The freshman and sophomore lockers are located on the second floor, where the shooting occurred.
“Everybody experienced it together,” Amend said. “To see the compassion, it’s just breathtaking.”