Principal says 1st-grader's death hard on teachers, students

Counselors at S.P. Livingston Elementary as school reopens Tuesday

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two days after a first-grade student was lost to gun violence, the principal of S.P. Livingston Elementary School is talking about how 7-year-old Tashawn Gallon's death is affecting classmates and teachers.

Principal Robert Gresham said that his students are so young, it’s difficult for them to understand death. It is more difficult for the teachers, because they are the ones who have to be strong for Tashawn’s classmates during a very sad time.

Gresham sent a letter home to parents Tuesday, saying in part:

The S.P. Livingston Elementary School community is deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of one of our students. Our sympathies go out to family, friends, and our entire school community during this difficult time. Students may be affected by this tragedy even if they did not personally know the student. We encourage you to talk to your children. Answer their questions honestly and simply." 

The school has about 600 students in Head Start and pre-K to second-grade. The letter said that school counselors would not only be available for students on Tuesday to help them deal with their emotions, they will be there as long as they’re needed.

Gresham also encouraged parents to do what his faculty and staff are doing: Talk to their children about the tragedy and be open and honest when answering their questions.

"Children may be shocked, numb, emotional, angry, guilty, depressed or disorganized. These reactions are normal and with support, acceptance, encouragement and guidance, they will begin to understand and deal with their feelings," Gresham wrote.

Gresham, who has been with the district for 38 years, told News4Jax he wants the community to know his school is a safe place for children.

"I get through it because, every day, I see those smiling faces come through my door. (There is joy in) providing them with the opportunity to come and talk and speak freely," Gresham said. "Every child has a message. No matter what it may be, and we are trained in understanding that we need to listen to our children. They have a lot to say."

Gresham invited any parents who have concerns over how to talk with their children about Tashawn’s death to visit him at the school. He will help them through it.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Tashawn's family members had not been been up to talking publicly about Tashawn's death. A neighbor told News4Jax that she doesn’t think the boy's body has been turned over to the family, adding that they are holding up as well as possible under the circumstances.

There's a $10,000 CrimeStoppers reward for information leading to the arrest of whoever shot the boy Sunday night, when police said an SUV stopped in front of a Durkeeville home and opened fire as Tashawn was with several adults in the front yard. Police said several people in the yard returned fire.

Community leader outraged over boy's death

The head of the Northside Coalition, which works to make positive changes in the community, is angered by Tashawn's shooting death and wants the community to step up.

Ben Frazier, president and founder of the Northside Coalition, said it's sad that so many people in the community haven't reacted to Tashawn’s death. He thinks that is because such shootings become the norm.

"Anytime a 7-year-old gets killed, shot down playing in his front yard, everybody ought to be upset," Frazier said. "It’s not black. It’s not white. This is about man’s inhumanity to man. We need to have more compassion and everyone to be compassionate -- black and white, young and old."

Frazier said there are things his organization plans to do immediately:

  • Sending people out into the community where shots have been fired and talking with the people at risk. 
  • Considering a multimedia campaign to deglorify violence
  • Addressing the correlation between crime and unemployment, and trying to help people find work

"Economics is, in fact, the civil rights battle that we're currently involved in. It’s all about economics and we cannot turn our heads the other way as if it does not exist," Frazier said.

Frazier encourages people to join the Northside Coalition and get involved. You could have an impact on people who live in the Durkevellie area, children who attend S.P. Livingston Elementary School and other communities and schools at risk.