Returning to school in the aftermath of the mass shooting in Odessa this past weekend, there were community calls to wear yellow to symbolize hope and a short prayer outside of Crockett Middle School Tuesday.
Stacy King, an eighth-grade English teacher who also is a coach, organized it. A lone shooter, 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator, traveled through Odessa and Midland shooting people with an AR-15 at random leaving seven dead and 25 injured. Ator was shot to death by police at Cinergy Theater off State Highway 191.
“Luckily,” King said, “I was at home. My family was at home, but I had friends who were in the middle of everything and I just I don’t know. I don’t want to live in this kind of a world. I don’t want my kids to live in this kind of a world.”
King said she thinks the community will heal over time.
“I’m sure. I’m positive we will. We’re a strong community,” she said.
Students at Permian High School linked hands and prayed prior to class on Tuesday.
Kristiana Farris, an eighth-grader at Crockett, said she didn’t really understand what was going on at the time.
“I started thinking, how there could be people in this world like that? How could you do that to such a small town,” Farris said.
English language arts teacher Niebes McCalister said she prayed that God would be with everyone and have mercy on their souls.
“… For those of us that didn’t know them personally, we knew them because they were part of us, especially Leilah Hernandez. She was part of our ECISD family, so a piece of our heart was ripped from us,” McCalister said.
She added that she never thought anything like this would happen in Odessa.
“I was just telling my husband we hear about this all the time in the media and we mourn with those far away and for it to happen in our community, it’s just an overwhelming, awful feeling that we wouldn’t want anyone to go through. We always say we don’t know what we would do in that predicament and we still don’t. You know what I mean? It’s something that you can never fathom,” McCalister said.
She added that the district has taken the right steps to help teachers, students and parents.
“(Superintendent) Dr. (Scott) Muri has reached out to us numerous times and I always say it starts from the top down and … he’s been the perfect example of that. And then it trickled down. I got a phone call from my daughter’s school, from Miss (Julie) Marshall (at Hays STEAM Academy), the principal there, and then I got another phone call from our school from Miss (Maribel) Aranda. … Just the outreach to protect our children, it’s just a great feeling to have to know that I can send my children to their school to know that they will be protected. There’s an assurance there with everybody hands on,” McCalister said.
Aranda said King asked if she could host the prayer service. She said she had a staff meeting Tuesday morning and provided teachers with some resources.
There was also a meeting Monday with the district on how to handle things, what to do and how to handle things. Counselors from around the region also were brought in.
“… The teachers have some resources. But then I told them that they also need to take care of themselves and that we’re here to support them and we are here to help them in case they are the ones that need someone to talk to. The counselors have a code. They’re not going to gossip or anything. This is their job, so they certainly can help them, too,” Aranda said.
Aranda said the shooting spree was surreal. She and her family were going to James Avery in the Chimney Rock Shopping Center, but she decided to make nachos for lunch first.
“… That’s really what kept us at home. Otherwise, we would have just grabbed something to eat. Who knows? It was scary. I’ll be honest. My kids were with me and we sat and watched the news and they were somber. Even my daughter said, she goes to Odessa High, and she’s like mom I’m scared because I walk a lot. Her classrooms are in different buildings, so we talked about things she can do to protect herself. Things that I always tell her — be vigilant; be paying attention; don’t be on your phone and talking; always pay attention to what’s around you. That’s always what I tell her, so hopefully it never happens again …,” Aranda said.
Crockett has 1,200 students in grades six through eight. Aranda personally has a high school student and an eighth-grader.
“This is something you will never forget and I just don’t know how our kids were affected; indirectly perhaps. We’ll find out. We’re here to help and support them,” Aranda said.
She noted that the students are at a delicate age.
“They want to be tough and show themselves that they’re tough, but they also are little ones. Really they are, so we just have to look for signs and help them,” Aranda said.
Muri said you never think something like this will happen. Ever.
“I’m thankful, though, that we have people that know how to respond,” Muri said. “Teachers and leaders of our schools that know how to take care of kids in a situation like this. Our local officials have been incredibly supportive; the state officials. The commissioner of education, Mike Morath, was one of the first calls that I received offering his services. And his team at TEA (the Texas Education Agency), I’ve heard from numerous folks from the state agency offering very tangible support. People in the region have been very helpful. We have counselors from all over the region at all of our schools today. In fact, over 30 counselors came in addition to our own counselors there in schools today embedded. … But no you never want, or dream, of being a part of like this. But we have to be ready because we live in a world today (where) sometimes the unexpected happens, so I’m thankful that we were ready to support our kids in this way.”
Muri dressed in a yellow button-down shirt and yellow socks to honor the call to wear the color today. He added that students at OHS made 1,000 yellow ribbons so anyone who didn’t have yellow could have one.
Muri said his first thoughts were shock and awe in the wake of the shooting. He added that he was impressed with the way the community came together and how they went from the initial shock to asking what they could do.
“We’ve got teams out all day today; really for the next several days we’ll be out continuously just monitoring and then seeing what schools need. The one thing that’s important, though, is normalcy. We don’t want people to be in the way at all, but we’ll certainly be in touch with our school administrators to see what needs may arise this week. Trauma affects people in different ways, so we want to make sure that the 4,000 employees are well taken care of, not only today, but for the next several weeks and months; just monitoring and watching them to make sure that we provide support and then certainly our kids and families. Everybody may be fine today and tomorrow, but Thursday and Friday, over the weekend something could trigger a reaction so we want to make sure that we’re in good shape,” Muri said.
Medical Center Hospital is still treating eight patients, a news release said. One is in critical condition; one in serious; and six are in fair condition. A news release said Cpl. James Santana was released Tuesday afternoon.
Odessa Regional Medical Center has two patients in the hospital. The patient in the critical care unit was removed from a ventilator Tuesday morning and is no longer considered critical. The other is in the telemetry unit, a spokeswoman said via text message.
A hospital spokeswoman said both are doing much better and are on their way to recovery.
At Midland Memorial, there are five patients and all are considered stable, a spokeswoman said via text message.
Ator grew up partly in Lorena. A statement from Superintendent Joe Kucera issued Tuesday said:
“Lorena ISD confirmed that Seth Aaron Ator attended Lorena Independent School District between the years of January 1995 and November of 2000. School District records indicate Ator was in the 2001 graduating cohort, but did not graduate from Lorena High School. Ator moved several times between Canyon ISD in Amarillo and Lorena ISD during this time frame. Lorena ISD records show Ator withdrew from Lorena High School in November of 2000 to enroll in a GED program,” the statement said.
“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families of the tragedy in Odessa.”