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La Jolla schools host post-shooting meeting for parents

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La Jolla High principal Chuck Podhorsky, Muirlands Middle School principal Geof Martin, SDUSD police officer Al Contreras, and SDUSD instructional support officer Noemi Villegas listen to parents during a July 1 meeting at La Jolla Library.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

In the wake of the deadly shooting that claimed the life of a 20-year-old party-goer in The Village last month, La Jolla school leaders are providing therapy services for those who might be affected and want to talk to someone over the summer.

During a community meeting July 1 at the La Jolla Library, La Jolla High School principal Chuck Podhorsky, Muirlands Middle School principal Geof Martin, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) police officer Al Contreras and SDUSD instructional support officer Noemi Villegas hosted a panel discussion with parents and reps from the school and psychiatric communities about the shooting.

The panel shared advice on how parents can talk to their children, the counsel available and more.

The tragic incident occurred around 12:40 a.m. June 23 in the alley on the 7500 block of Cuvier Street, while a party was taking place at a nearby residence on the 7500 block of Draper Avenue (those injured were gathered in the alley). A light-colored sedan pulled into the alley and opened fire. 20-year-old Nina Silver was shot and killed, and three male victims were injured and taken to the hospital.

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Contreras said he had no update on the case, as San Diego Police Department was investigating, but “We know it happened after school hours and off school property” and that “the school community was affected and the La Jolla community was affected.”

To provide resources over the summer and when school resumes in the fall, SDUSD is collecting names of local therapists and counselors willing to donate a few hours of time to those who might need someone to talk to. The list will not be made public, but those who wish to connect with these counselors can e-mail LJHighPTA@gmail.com in the coming weeks. Communications will be kept confident.

“Losing someone in the community is very tragic … even if you don’t feel like you are going to grieve a person, grief is very personal,” said Villegas. “It can happen at any time. Maybe students won’t feel anything for the next couple of weeks and then they go back-to-school shopping and that’s when it hits. We will be here to continue to support the students.”

However, because the victim was not from the area, one parent questioned whether most La Jollans “would equate the feeling with grief,” but she recognized when school resumes (and the teenage social scene increases) there might be anxiety.

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“When something like this happens, people respond differently,” Villegas responded. “Some people want to talk, others get angry, some withdraw, so knowing your child and what is typical behavior for them is important.”

This generated a discussion about the importance of parents talking to their offspring and cultivating a relationship where children feel comfortable talking to their parents.

One parent, Elizabeth Tobias, noted in lieu of getting the details of the shooting from their parents, some children are getting it from their friends. “I don’t know what (my daughter’s) friends told her or what information is being dissipated,” she said. “Children’s don’t always turn to adults — they talk to their friends — and I think that can contribute to the anxiety about the situation.”

Psychiatrist Katherine Williams added that children share information on the playground and on social media. “My kids know Star Wars characters even though they’ve never seen the movies,” she said. “So parents should recognize their children are hearing about this (one way or another). One of the worst things we might unintentionally do is say ‘that wasn’t at your school, so don’t worry about it.’ ”

Additionally, peppering children and teens with questions can cause them to pull back, so many in attendance advocated for parents hearing their children out and taking the conversation slowly.

Williams advised starting the conservation by asking “what do you know?” or “what have you already heard?” because she said, “very likely they have already heard something and it might be incorrect. So allowing them to speak first, allows you to gently correct them, and it empowers them to speak up.”

Contreras added: “These are conversations we have to have. These things happen across the country — at a mall, in a restaurant, in a synagogue, at a school, at a party. No community is immune.

“We are not kidding when we say ‘if you see something, say something.’ If something gets posted on a social media site for La Jolla and it seems out of place, let someone know. Maybe that is the time to call us, not afterward. People say ‘well, I didn’t want to say something’ … and this is what can happen.”


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