Offbeat One Santa Fe student's struggle to cope: Church, baking, friends — and a plea to arm teachers
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SANTA FE, Texas — Ever since a gunman killed her classmates, sent friends to the hospital and upended her quiet hometown, Erin Werner has kept busy.
She’s volunteered at her local church, had long talks with friends and baked batch after batch of chocolate chip cookies (a favorite hobby). Nights have been filled with community dinners and church gatherings.
Erin, 16, a National Honor Society student, science club officer, longtime Girl Scout and varsity soccer and basketball player, knows there are hardships ahead: It will take awhile for the student body at Santa Fe High School and the community at large to face down their fears and heal from last week’s shooting that left 10 dead and 13 injured.
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Students at Santa Fe High School in Texas were just beginning Friday classes when an alarm bell sounded, gun shots rang out, and they had to run from the latest mass shooting at a U.S. school. "I wanted to take care of my friends, but I knew I had to get out of there," said 15-year-old freshman Courtney Marshall, who saw the gunman walk into her art class and open fire. "I knew the guy behind me was dead."Police said a student fatally shot at least eight people, including students, before he was arrested. Explosive devices were also found on campus, authorities said.
Like other students, Erin is learning to live in a new reality.
She also has a few ideas about how to prevent future school shootings — arm teachers, an opinion shared by many of her friends.
“If you can’t trust the teachers with a way to protect us, who are you going to trust?” Erin said. “Even with the best police force ever, you can’t get there fast enough.”
Aaron Kyle McLeod, 15
Jared Conard Black, 17
Cynthia Tisdale, 63
Sabika Sheikh, 18
Chris Stone, 17
Shana Fisher, 16
Christian Riley Garcia, 15
For now, everyone’s focused on next Tuesday, when classes are set to resume at Santa Fe High. Teachers and staff returned to work Wednesday.
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Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will pay the funeral expenses of the 10 people who lost their lives in a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, the Texans told ESPN. Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt will pay the funeral expenses of the 10 people who lost their lives in a school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Friday, the Texans told ESPN.
“I have friends who were in that classroom,” Erin told USA TODAY. “They are going to have a hard time of it for a while.”
Police said suspect Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, opened fire with a shotgun and a .38 caliber revolver in an art complex located at the rear of the school around 7:30 a.m. Friday. Law enforcement agents engaged the shooter four minutes later, but the gunman stalked the two-classroom area for 30 minutes, killing students and two teachers, before surrendering to police.
It was the deadliest campus shooting in Texas since a sniper in a clock tower killed 16 people and injured 31 at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
Santa Fe, located 30 miles southeast of Houston, is a small town where families leave front doors unlocked and teachers know generations of family members. “I’ve had teachers tell me, ‘I had your sister and your dad's such a nice man,'” Erin said.
That tranquility was shattered Friday.
Erin has replayed the events of that day repeatedly.
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How her aunt drove her to school that morning. How she handed out homemade chocolate chip cookies to friends before class. How she was working on an essay on Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings in first-period advanced English when the fire alarm rang. How she exited the front of the school looking for smoke, then was told to keep running.
How her friend Clay Horn, a football player and pole vaulter, was shot twice but still scaled a seven-foot wall to escape the killing. How another friend, Zachary Muehe, fled the art complex, ran halfway around the school and went back inside to alert teachers, one of whom pulled the alarm.
How Kim Vaughn, a friend from Girl Scouts, never made it out.
Raised around guns, Erin said she doesn’t think it’s fair to just blame them for the shooting. She favors strengthening mental health background checks for gun owners. But an even better idea would be to train and arm teachers, making sure the weapons are stored in a safe place, she said.
After a vigil for shooting victims Friday evening, she approached Gov. Greg Abbott and told him how she felt.
Her mom, Marisa Werner, a native of Monclava, Mexico, supports her daughters’ ideas. Like others in this city, she said she was still stunned something like this would happen in Santa Fe.
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The people of Santa Fe, Texas, know they’ve got some hard days ahead of them.“This is the beginning of what will be a long process for these families in this community to build themselves back up,” said the Rev. Brad Drake, senior pastor of Dayspring Church.
“I’d expect to see this in a bigger community. But us?” she said. “We do the right thing here. We know each other. We’re low key. Bad stuff doesn’t happen in our town.”
For now, Erin has mostly stayed off social media and instead busied herself with friends and family. She spends most of her days at friends’ houses or meeting with youth ministers at her church, Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in nearby Hitchcock, Texas.
She’s been moved by the outpouring of support from people from around Texas and across the country. The Houston Astros baseball team has provided the school with free tickets and even rival schools, like Texas City High, have produced videos showing support.
The next big challenge will be Tuesday, when classes resume.
School officials this week said they will be bringing in teams of counselors. "There are no words that can express the overall grief we all feel as a result of this horrific event," Santa Fe Independent School District Superintendent Leigh Wall said in a statement. "While we are anxious to have our students back in our schools, we realize that there are students, staff and families who need time for grieving and mourning."
Erin said she knows it will be hard for some people to show up to school and others might not make it through the day.
But she plans to be there.
“We want to go back, and we need to go back,” she said. “It’s part of our healing and part of our closure that we go back through those doors.”
Follow Jervis on Twitter at: @MrRJervis.
'She was so full of light': Santa Fe victim Angelique Ramirez laid to rest .
Hours before her burial, the light of Angelique Ramirez’s life still shined so bright. The sunset over Santa Fe on Friday was a reminder of that; the two rainbows on the horizon felt like signs from above. “The sky is showing us that she is with us,” said close family friend Lesley Tribble. “It has us all in awe.”Ramirez would have loved it. The 15-year-old Santa Fe high School shooting victim lived for art and music and anime and animals.And rainbows.The front page of her memorial booklet was adorned with one. It swirled underneath a photo of Ramirez, a sister of two with fire-red dyed hair and lip piercings.
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