WICHITA FALLS, TX - Students at McNiel Middle School in Wichita Falls are back in class after a long Labor day weekend that for many was marred by sadness after two of their fellow classmates were gunned down Friday afternoon.
A Facebook group called "Support McNiel Students" suggested that members of the community show up Tuesday to greet students with heartfelt messages of support as the children made their way back to their campus.
Cara Saucedia and Kim Woods helped organize the event as a way to show students that there is "light" at the end of the tunnel.
"I know so many kids that go to McNiel. I worked with many of them for over 14 years at one of the boys and girls clubs and I just want them to know that Mrs.Cara has their back and that they are being prayed for, loved on, and that this community supports them," said Saucedia.
The two organizers said even if they were the only ones to show up, they wanted the kids to know they are loved and prayed for. Lucky for Saucedia and Woods, they were not the only ones to show up, over 30 people gathered together for the Tuesday morning event. Woods said it's amazing the amount of people that felt a need to join them and support the students of the WFISD. Woods said she's sad to know such an act could happen in a town she has called home for 16 years.
"It upsets me it was not that far from my home and my heart is broken there is no words to express how broken I am for the families that are both involved in the situation," said Woods.
Vanessa Davis is a mother of two McNiel Middle School Students. Davis was seen walking them into the building before the opening bells rang out. While she felt the warmth and love shown by supporters she still fears the worst could happen again and that one or both her children could fall victim to an act of violence.
"It's kind of scary. It's kind of scary knowing that, I mean knowing that they might get out of school and one-day mine might be gone," said Davis.
While there were plenty of supporters from the community dressed in plain clothes, there were also countless numbers of local, county, and even state law enforcement present letting kids know they were being watched over and protected. According to Wichita Fall Police Department Sergeant Harold McClure, many of the local officers showed up on their own free will.
After such a strong show of support not only Tuesday but throughout the weekend, the Wichita Falls School District released this statement.
The generosity we have seen from the Wichita Falls community over the last few days has been amazing. As a district, we are so grateful for the outpouring of support that has been displayed. We can't begin to thank the WFPD for their work throughout the weekend and for being a presence at McNiel Middle School this morning. Their work made a world of difference to our staff and students today!
We have had numerous groups donating food, planning fundraisers for the families involved and offering counseling services to students. We have also heard stories of students who made purple ribbons throughout the weekend to distribute this week. We know there are countless stories like this throughout our community today and we are so thankful to everyone who has been a part of that.
We also want to thank the administrators and teachers at McNiel for their quick response on Friday afternoon. While you can never truly prepare for this type of situation, their natural instinct is to protect students and that's what they did.
At the candlelight vigil on Sunday night, Lauren's father said, "we are devastated but we are not defeated." I believe that quote epitomizes Wichita Falls and our determination to push forward in the midst of a tragic situation.
-WFISD Communications Officer Ashley Thomas