Utah kids memorialize victims of Connecticut shooting
Something was different in Utah schools Monday the first full day of classes after a gunman massacred children and teachers at a Connecticut school.
But it wasn't fear or anxiety that filled Utah school hallways. Rather, children and teens dressed in their Sunday best or blue, green, white or yellow in honor of the victims of Friday's killings.
"It's such a tragedy," said Alissa George, a ninth-grader at Mountain Ridge Junior High in Highland, dressed up in a black skirt. "We can't do anything there, but we can honor them by doing stuff here. ... They were innocent little kids."
Across the country, and in Utah, students proudly wore the school colors of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults Friday before ending his own life. In Utah, kids at some schools also wore their Sunday best, and other colors, in remembrance of the victims in many cases no older than their younger brothers and sisters.
Utah teens spread the word over the weekend, largely through text messages and Facebook, to dress up in honor of those who died more than 2,000 miles away.
"I just thought it would be the right thing to show people we understand and care for them," said Mountain Ridge ninth-grader Kaitlin Taylor, 14, who wore an orange skirt to school Monday.
Taylor said she first heard about the shooting on the bus ride home Friday. She then got home and talked about it with her mom, she said.
Taylor said dressing up Monday seemed like the least she could do.
"It's sad. It's been happening more lately," Taylor said of mass shootings such as Friday's tragedy and the movie theater shooting in Colorado earlier this year. "It makes me want to try to make it stop, but there's not really much you can do."
Kimberly Kindt, a junior at Lone Peak High in Highland, said many teens at her school also dressed up Monday.
"Since we can't be at all of their funerals," Kindt said, "we can at least do something in our own way to express that we care."
Kindt's mother, Annette Kindt, said she was glad to see kids doing something positive in the aftermath of the shootings.
Though her heart went out to the parents of the murdered children, Annette Kindt said she wasn't nervous about sending her own children to school Monday. She said she knows her kids' schools already have a number of safety measures in place, and she trusts her children's teachers.
Several of the Connecticut educators lost their lives Friday protecting their young students.
"I don't have any doubt most of the teachers around here would do the same thing," Annette Kindt said.
Grandmother Betty Smith said she hopes never to see such a shooting again. She said she also wasn't scared to see her grandsons and her daughter, who is a teacher, return to school Monday.
"Right in here, it seemed to be OK," she said of safety at her family's schools, as she picked up her 14-year-old grandson Monday from Mountain Ridge, "but you never know."
A number of Wasatch Front school districts reported receiving phone calls Monday from parents concerned about their schools' safety. Many schools have also sent messages home to parents about the shooting and their own schools' safety measures.
Representatives from the Davis, Canyons, Jordan, Alpine and Granite districts said Monday that safety continues to be a top priority. Alpine spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley said the district is looking at its procedures with law enforcement to see if there's more that should be done. Granite is also reviewing whether modifications are needed to its procedures, said Granite spokesman Ben Horsley.
"I think this is a great time to look at what we're doing and see if we're doing enough," Bromley said.
Jordan District spokeswoman Sandy Riesgraf said the district is ensuring all school principals have checklists of what they should be doing daily, weekly and monthly to ensure school safety.
Canyons has asked its principals and faculty to be extra alert and vigilant in enforcing safety protocols, and the district's risk coordinator reached out to Sandy police over the weekend to make sure the district's policies are adequate, said Jeff Haney, Canyons spokesman.
The districts also regularly hold drills to practice in case of intruders, fires and earthquakes. Many schools also lock all but their front doors during the school day and use surveillance cameras.
"We're confident that, truly, schools are some of the safest places kids can be," Haney said, "and our aim is to maintain that."