Your Schools: There’s only so much you can do to hold back tearsI couldn’t cry. I’d had minor surgery that day and was still feeling the numbing effects of anesthesia when Fire Chief Scott Nelson contacted me in the evening to come immediately to the police station for a briefing on a terrible tragedy that had occurred in town.
By: Tom Westerhaus, School District Superintendent, River Falls Journal
I couldn’t cry. I’d had minor surgery that day and was still feeling the numbing effects of anesthesia when Fire Chief Scott Nelson contacted me in the evening to come immediately to the police station for a briefing on a terrible tragedy that had occurred in town.
I couldn’t cry as I held the sobbing elementary school principal in my arms, or when my administrative assistant, the principal, and I huddled late that night to sadly begin to implement the district’s crisis plan.
I couldn’t cry the next day as I temporarily postponed vacation plans and then met for several hours with our district crisis team, Greenwood Elementary staff, and various members of the community’s clergy to carry out the grief recovery plan.
I couldn’t cry as we spoke to reporters from the local, state, and national media.
I couldn’t cry as I met with Principal Nate Schurman to support him in his courageous efforts to manage such an unimaginable tragedy as this was for the Greenwood community and for the entire school community.
I couldn’t cry as we read and heard the awful details of the children’s deaths.
Then, I couldn’t cry as we tried in vain to communicate with school employees and parents about the horrors of the tragedy unfolding before us.
I couldn’t cry as I listened to and read hundreds of messages of support from educational colleagues, friends, and family members reading about the shocking news coming out of River Falls.
I couldn’t cry as we boarded a plane with our German friends only two days after our River Falls tragedy to head with them to the Northwest on a trip that had been planned for two years and required my being with them to drive and shepherd them through the journey.
I couldn’t cry as I stayed in contact with the school district during the trip by email and cellphone, helping Nate when I could with memorial plans and communications about ways to support staff and families in mourning.
I couldn’t cry as I abandoned my wish to fly home early for the memorial service due to cost, time constraints, and the fact that Mr. Schurman was handling the tragedy so competently and with such heart and soul.
I couldn’t cry when I drove back into River Falls last Sunday for church with a strange sense that I was coming back to a very different town than I’d left 10 days earlier.
I couldn’t cry when I was welcomed so warmly by friends and fellow churchgoers, realizing that I was not coming back to a different town, but rather the same old town that loves, supports, and cares for one another.
I couldn’t cry when the sermon was about the shepherd shepherding his flock, about the importance of getting away for a little while to refresh one’s soul, and about the importance of sharing with others the goodness and beauty in the world after one returns from a get-away.
I couldn’t cry as I thought in retrospect about the beauty we had just experienced in the Northwest, both of nature and of the countless acts of love and generosity and kindness we witnessed every day on the trip.
I couldn’t cry as I asked myself a million questions about the River Falls tragedy, about the Aurora tragedy, and so many other tragedies and violence near and far, about domestic abuse, about the purpose of assault rifles in civilian hands, and about why most of the tragedies involve men, my own gender, as the perpetrator of horrific crimes.
I couldn’t cry as I pondered how best I could help our community to move forward and to celebrate the many good things about us that still remain.
And then I came to work, where sitting on my desk was the beautiful memorial program and obituaries from the Memorial Service held for the Schaffhausen girls, along with the happy pictures of Amara, Sophie, and Cecilia who will no longer enter the doors of our schools and classrooms.
Finally, I could cry. And I am doing so as I write this farewell to these precious children.