PART I. INTRODUCTION
PART II. OVERVIEW OF THE DAY AT THE ACADEMY
About The Tragic Day And The Aftermath:
Judy Weldon began with a description of the shooting at Cleveland Elementary School on Jan. 17th. Using a map to illustrate where the shooter lit his car on fire behind the school and where he stood as he opened fire with his AR-15 type weapon she explained where the students were during recess that morning.
Mike Vann, who today works in the Field Division at the Stockton Police Department (P.D.), was a second-grade student that day. He opened the session with an activity that demonstrates how each of us has difficulties and achievements throughout our lives. Focusing on the good things and achievements helps us get through the difficulties.Mike remembered that on the day of Jan. 17th he was very focused on a math test that was to be given after recess. He heard gunshots, but like many students, he thought they were firecrackers. It wasn’t until most of the students were inside the school that he realized that something was very wrong. When he came back to the playground a few days later he noticed a bullet hole right by the door where he had been standing. He thought, “I shouldn’t be here.” That bullet could have hit him.
Rob Young, who is also a Police Officer at the Stockton P.D. was a first-grader that day. He was not at the Academy to share his experience but was able to send us a YouTube video called “Now This.” We all learned from the video about Rob, his injuries, and the bullet fragments he still carries as well as the impact that day had on his life. The day of the shooting played a role in his decision to become a police officer. Today, he gives presentations around the country to share his experience of that horrific day, Jan. 17, 1989.
Samnang Leam, a realtor in the Chicago area, was a second-grade student that day. He presented at the Academy virtually via Zoom. Sam was injured on Jan. 17th. The extent of his injuries forced him to crawl the entire length of the hallway to make it back to his classroom that day. Another student saw Sam’s bloody sweater and told his teacher who carried Sam out to the front of the building where first responders were performing triage. Sam spoke of how he still suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He knows that balloons are not bullets, but he can’t bring himself to allow his own children to play with balloons. That popping sound shatters his peace of mind and brings him back to the tragedy. Like Rob, Sam also carries shrapnel from the bullets.
The Reading of Short Anecdotal Notes
- “The air was filled with white dust as the bullets pierced the plaster in the wall.” (Kindergarten Teacher)
- “We had to use our hands (as tourniquets) to apply pressure to gunshot wounds in children.” (A First-grade Teacher)
- “Some bullets went through the outside wall, two inside walls, and the outside wall to the street.” (A Custodian)
- “Many months later a teacher found a bullet hole all the way through a stack of books…in a crate…on top of a cabinet.” (A Teacher)
- “We hid under our desks, but my students could feel the vibrations of the gun as the shooter stood on the porch of our portable.” (Teacher of the deaf students)
- “I walked on the playground and I saw a bullet hole in one of those tetherball posts. They’re thick metal, almost four inches in diameter, and the bullet almost cut it in half.” (First Responder)
- “I can’t tell if that is Oeun. She looks different. But there are her little red shoes.” (Oeun Lim’s Teacher)
- “Every time I walk out of the house, I put on this big, heavy armor of protection, because I may never know when a stray bullet may come and hit me.” (Writing as an adult, a student who saw Rathanar Or die)
- Thuy Tran, just a sweet little girl, was a first-grader.
- Ram Chun, who loved to jump rope, was a first-grader who died in the arms of her teacher.
- Sokhim An, another innocent child was also a first grader.
- Oeun Lim, smart, bright-eyed, and curious, was a second-grader.
- Rathanar Or, a shy, sweet third-grade boy who was like a big brother to all his cousins. His teacher held him as he passed.
PART III. PERSPECTIVES FROM FIRST RESPONDERS AND MORE
After a break, during which the presenters had a few moments to chat with some of the students, the last session of the morning began.
Officer Dave Duley & Officer Robert Faine
Retired Stockton Police Officer Dave Duley was one of the first officers on the scene the morning of January 17th. He arrived at the south (back) of the campus where he heard gunshots. Officer Robert Faine, who now works for the District Attorney’s Office, arrived at the door of the school office on the north side of the campus. He was asked by the Principal to go to the back of the schoolyard where someone was shooting. Officer Faine and Officer Duley got to the gunman just after he had shot himself and died.
Both officers performed the routine police protocol of securing the scene.
The unusual part of this story is that Officer Faine did not remember who joined him that morning to stop the shooter. Thirty years later at a memorial anniversary for law enforcement personnel who were involved in the aftermath of the Cleveland School shooting, he found out that Officer Duley was the one who assisted in securing the scene. Officer Faine shared his surprise and the fact that he had worked with Officer Duley for those thirty years and didn’t know that they were together on Jan. 17th. He realized then that his mind had shut out that detail of the horrible incident.
We learned from Dave Duley and Robert Faine that police officers and first responders did not receive counseling or any time off for debriefing. At that time, in 1989, those services were not provided after a traumatic event like a mass shooting. Officer Faine informed us that today, counseling and debriefing are required after an extraordinary event. First responders and law enforcement personnel may take advantage of whatever service is needed for their well-being.
Diane Batres, who was the Director of the Victim Witness office, under the jurisdiction of the District Attorney, helped us understand the multitude of tasks that come to light after a mass shooting. Her office became a hub for information, assistance to families for funeral preparation, transportation to hospitals, food, and basic necessities. Diane and her staff organized counseling services for students and staff at the school. They were also instrumental in disbursing charitable funds that were sent to Stockton for the benefit of the students enrolled at Cleveland. It would be hard to quantify all the tasks and actions that the Office of Victim Witness accomplished that year.
It is important to reflect upon and evaluate the content and the presentation of material for every lecture.
Some of the presenters had never shared their story with others in a setting such as this, a specific class about gun violence on a school campus. That meant that even those of us who were present at this horrible event are still learning about its effects, some thirty-two years later.
It is crucial to gain an understanding of the individual experiences of several different survivors. Each story is from a particular viewpoint. If it was possible to invite other survivors to share their stories, we would learn so much more.
Why is it necessary to hear about this event, to learn about gun violence in the specific setting of an elementary school? Hearing these stories helps each of us understand the impact of gun violence, not just at the time of the incident, but for years later. We begin to grasp how this shooting affected the children on campus, the staff, and the first responders who came to the aid of so many.
Even as an adult, Officer Robert Faine did not remember that Officer Dave Duley was with him as they secured the scene of the crime.
Now, as Samnang Leam states, he is unable to allow his own children (a generation later) to play with balloons.
As we learned from Officer Rob Young, this event impacted his life to the extent that his chosen profession (as a police officer) is to always be ready to help others.
Sothea Ung, who works at APSARA, hears stories of the families who escaped the Khmer Rouge only to face gunfire at a school in America. He is a listener who works to make social justice a reality in Stockton.
Mike Vann, who works for the Stockton Police Department, survived the playground massacre, now also works for social justice. He remembers the day of Jan. 17th, 1989, and many of the details. We have more to learn from Mike Vann.
With the closing activity Mike Vann shared with us, we learned that although we have experienced a horrific event, we are not broken. We can move on, find purpose and happiness in life. We will carry the scar of this tragedy, but we can choose to find a way to create change in our community and to improve life for others.
When we share the pain of awful experiences, we find out we are usually not alone. Each of us carries an awful experience somewhere deep in our hearts. As we learn from these recollections, our empathy for others grows and we are able to understand what is required to make our world a better place.
For More Information
For an in-depth account of the shooting at Cleveland School, you can find the most complete coverage of the incident on our Website, Clevelandschoolremembers.org. The story The Trigger Effect was written by Stu Van Airsdale, at Sactown Magazine.
How you Can Help
If you are inclined, Cleveland School Remembers is always looking for new members. We work to reduce gun violence in any setting. You can find out some of what we do by going to our website, Clevelandschoolremembers.org. And our Facebook page, Clevelandschoolremembers, keeps us up to date on the latest activities and upcoming events.
Don’t forget that the organization Empowering Marginalized Asian Communities, EMAC, is a group that works to improve social justice and works to create equality for all in our community. You can reach them by connecting with Sothea Ung at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope this summary offers a clearer picture of the impact of gun violence for all who experience this kind of traumatic event.