Hunter High focuses on violence prevention, healing following deadly shooting
WEST VALLEY CITY—A crucial conversation is beginning to open up at Hunter High School, two weeks after a deadly shooting that took the lives of two teens.
The conversation focuses not only on violence prevention and safety, school district officials and organizations say, but also about how the school and community can grow and heal.
The January 13 shooting, which took place near Hunter High School during lunch break, ended with 14-year-old Tivani Lopati and 15-year-old Paul Tahi dead, and 15-year-old Ephraim Asiata critically injured.
“When this happened, it was automatic for us to say, ‘Okay we need to step in and we need to support,’” said Lulu Latu-Wolfgramm. She is the director of Empowered Living Services and youth coordinator for the organization Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources (PIK2AR).
She said the organization aims to connect with the Pacific Islander community, talk about how to come together as a community, create violence prevention and teach that knowledge to strengthen the community.
Latu-Wolfgramm explained that they’ve visited Hunter High School in the past to give presentations to students.
“We reached out and asked if there was any way we could participate in the class, by coming in and just creating a space to discuss some things with the kids, see if we could get them to open up,” she said.
PIK2AR visited the People of Polynesia class Thursday. She described how PIK2AR staff started off sharing about themselves and their own backgrounds.
They then opened it up for the kids to share, in what she and others described as a powerful and emotional discussion about what students are feeling and struggling with.
“There was some tears shed, there was some laughter, there was a lot of mixed emotions in there, and it was great because I think this is what’s needed,” Latu-Wolfgramm shared. “In order for us to break the barriers, we’ve got to create that comfort and that trust with the kids so that we can be able to engage with them.”
As those conversations start to blossom, questions are surfacing after new details were released in charging documents of the alleged shooter.
The documents reveal that detectives believe the 14-year-old suspect and another student each brought loaded guns to Hunter High School on the day of the shooting.
In interviews with police, others said that the shooting stemmed from issues between two different groups that apparently went back for more than a year.
Ben Horsley, spokesperson for the Granite School District relayed that they’ve reviewed multiple clips of surveillance camera footage of the groups interacting on the day of the shooting but saw no violence on school grounds, and no indication students brought guns to school.
“How these children are coming into possession of a weapon, I think, is the bigger question and concern that we as a community need to address,” he said.
Horsley indicated that the issues between the two groups as far as any physical confrontations took place off school property.
“The district and the school have received no such reports of bullying, harassment, fights on school property prior to this incident,” Horsley said.
He also indicated that the school district only found out about the issues after it was too late. He said they have security systems and protocols in place, but they need students to report any unsafe behavior they see—even if it’s off campus.
“Without people bringing these things to our attention, we’re at a loss,” he said.
To help connect with students and begin the critical conversations like the one PIK2AR sparked on Thursday, Horsley said they plan to bring in different groups to the school and hope to host a community-wide forum.
“Schools cannot do it alone,” he stressed. “We need families, we need parents, we need community members.”
After Thursday’s discussion, Latu-Wolfgramm said PIK2AR created next steps and plans to visit the school again throughout the semester.
She urged parents to talk to their kids and come from a place of sharing emotions while listening.
It’s time for violence prevention, Latu-Wolfgramm said, not violence intervention.
“The message to everybody should be: Let’s take a little more time to listen, to understand,” she said. “And let’s help our kids and our community grow and learn from this.”
The Lopati-Maumau family communicated the following statement through family spokesperson Jake Fitisemanu:
“As we lay our son to rest this weekend, we reflect on his life and the bright future he had ahead of him. The outpouring of love and generosity has been overwhelming and clearly demonstrates the solidarity and strength of our community. We mourn together with heartbroken families across the nation who have been devastated by gun violence. While we stand against bullying in any form, we acknowledge that bullying is not a valid defense for taking human life. We ask our community to join us in supporting a fair trial and ensuring that justice is served proportionally. We have all experienced too much loss already and we do not condone any form of retaliation or revenge. Please respect our privacy as we mourn our son’s loss and celebrate his life as a family. Some of the ways to honor Tivani are to strengthen our personal relationships, be kinder to each other, and find ways to get involved and serve in our communities.”
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