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West Hartford Community Offers Support, Resources Following Fatal Stabbing of Child

West Hartford Town Hall. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

West Hartford’s mayor, the school administration, and others have provided information as the community grapples with the aftermath of Monday afternoon’s tragic stabbing incident. Video of ‘Community Conversation’ on WHC-TV included.

By Ronni Newton

The West Hartford community is grieving as they deal with the aftermath of an unfathomable tragedy – a 12-year-old boy who fatally stabbed his twin sister and also stabbed and seriously injured his mother at their Stoner Drive residence.

Town and school officials are urging the community to respect the privacy of the family, and to come together and support each other, particularly the children who may need extra help coping with their reactions to this tragic incident. [Editor’s note: We-Ha.com will not publish the names of the any of the family members involved in this incident unless the names are released by police.]

On Tuesday, West Hartford Public Schools had extra staff on hand, including grief counselors, in all schools. Additional resources will be available through the end of the week, Superintendent of Schools Tom Moore said. Holiday break begins on Monday, and schools will be closed until Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2019.

Moore said that Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting was canceled, and from 6-8 p.m. Tuesday evening counselors would be on hand in Room 400 at West Hartford Town Hall to meet with anyone – adults or children – who would like to speak with them. A message was sent home to all West Hartford Public Schools families informing them that the resources would be available. That event will be closed to the media, he said.

“It is important, as a community, that we take the time to care for each other,” Moore wrote in a message to West Hartford Public Schools families on Tuesday.

Gretchen Nelson, Director of Pupil Services, emailed all parents and guardians of students in West Hartford Public Schools a five-page memo on Tuesday morning, offering talking points and resources available for helping cope with the tragedy.

Immediate assistance is available through the 211 Helpline, school counselors, and The Bridge Family Center (860-521-8035), Nelson said. Guidelines from the National Association of School Psychologists for helping children of all ages cope with loss, death, and grief are included, along with recommendations for guiding conversations that are offered by the American Pediatrics Association. The document is provided in its entirety as a PDF below.

“I went to the schools most affected and met with staff this morning,” Moore told We-Ha.com on Tuesday. “I observed our teachers, schools psychologists, social workers, and school counselors from across the district coming together to help our kids and to take care of each other,” he said.

Although it was a very sad day, Moore said, “I am inspired by their grace, their compassion, and their love for our kids. West Hartford is very lucky to have these professionals.”

Moore said that neighboring communities, as well as the State Department of Education, have also offered support to West Hartford Public Schools should it be necessary.

State Sen. Beth Bye, who has spent most of her professional career working in early childhood education, said that while protecting the privacy of the family involved is important, it’s also important for parents to know what to say to their kids.

“Today is a day to support others who are dealing with this unfathomable tragedy,” said Bye. She also urged parents to limit their kids’ access to their phones and other social media sources, where rumors and conversations about the incident are rampant difficult to avoid.

Bye also provided links to a blog post written by Hall High School graduate Lauren Hogan that offers advice from the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) on how to cope with violence, and to online resources that are available from NAEYC.

On Tuesday afternoon, Bye recorded a “Community Conversation” at West Hartford Community Television, speaking with Dr. Barbara Rzepski and Dr. Robert Keder, who are both West Hartford residents associated with Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Both offer valuable advice for parents about how to communicate with their children in the aftermath of this tragedy.

“Today we are mourning the loss of a beautiful young lady and praying for the recovery of her mother,” Mayor Shari Cantor said in a statement issued Tuesday morning. “Our special community of West Hartford is in pain.”

Cantor urged everyone to keep the family in their thoughts and prayers. “Let us give them the space, privacy, and time to grieve and heal,” she said. “We will do all we can to provide support and help for the family, our students, teachers, neighbors, friends, and the entire community.”

Cantor and Town Manager Matt Hart met with members of the media on Tuesday afternoon to answer questions. Joining them was Chuck Coursey of Coursey & Company, a West Hartford-based public affairs firm that is speaking on behalf of the family involved in this tragedy. He said that he and his wife are also close and longtime friends of the family.

“The family is overwhelmed and so grateful for the outpouring of support from their friends and the community,” Coursey said. “It is a very difficult time, a terrible tragedy … The most important thing that people can do, all of us, is for everyone to give them time, privacy, and the space they deserve and need so that they can begin the healing process.”

“They are people of faith,” Cantor said. She said that all would benefit from prayer circles, and urged the community to provide the family – and the Stoner Drive neighborhood – with space, time, and peace.

Cantor said that she has received many calls and texts asking what people can do. “Think about making a donation of time or treasure to organizations that have as their mission helping people in times of crisis,” she said, suggesting The Bridge Family Center, the Town That Cares Fund, the Village for Families and Children, and faith institutions.

“We all want to help right now, and right now the best ways to help are to pray and think about the family, give them the space that they need, activate your own community and support each other,” said Cantor. “One of the reasons we’re in such pain is we are a close community and the connections run deep … so it hurts so profoundly. We show our strength by supporting each other and treating each other with love and care.”

Cantor said that she is very proud of the way the schools have reacted, how well-prepared they were to deploy social services personnel where needed.

She also praised the “professional, caring, empathetic first responders who were on site. They truly had the best of care.”

Hart said that while a situation like this has never happened in West Hartford, nationally there have been multiple cases of minor children harming relatives.

“The Bridge Family Center works in partnership with West Hartford’s school system, first responders and community leaders every day. These strong relationships enable us to mobilize when a crisis occurs,” said Margaret Hann, executive director of The Bridge Family Center. “Our team of nine therapists were in the schools this morning supporting and comforting students and faculty as they faced unimaginable grief and challenging concerns.”

Hann said that The Bridge will continue to have staff available over the following days, weeks, and months to assist all who need it. “Therapists are available in our Counseling Centers to provide counseling, help manage grief and offer coping strategies. A tragedy of this nature will impact our community well into the future and we will be with our community throughout this time of need,” said Hann.

On Tuesday afternoon, West Hartford Police issued a press release indicating that the 12-year-old boy had been charged with murder and first-degree assault.

West Hartford Police said they will continue to provide regular updates about the investigation.

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