WELEETKA — "This is the mother of all wrongness.” Tension far exceeded the thick June humidity as Graham School Superintendent Dusty Chancey cut to the point Tuesday. "There's a lot of anger out there right now,” said Chancey, a man with a stern look, a shaved head and a salt and red pepper goatee. Less than 48 hours earlier two of his students — Taylor Dawn Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Jade Whitaker, 11 — had been shot to death along a rural Okfuskee County road about a quarter-mile from the older child's home. But to understand Chancey's statements, one must understand that the bruise this community bears is not fresh. They were still healing. Many people will for years talk about this horrible crime in June '08. But it's important to listen when Chancey starts a sentence with "The last time ...” During the summer of 2004 Becky Johnson, who was pregnant, was shot. Her former boyfriend, Cody James, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of second-degree murder in the shooting death of Johnson and first-degree manslaughter for the killing of Johnson's unborn child. Johnson and James were closing in on their junior year at Graham. Think about these two tragedies. And then think about the families of the victims and the community left mourning.
School brings counselorsThe Graham School District only covers about 48 square miles, which includes about 600 residents. The K-12 school has about 100 students. Chancey and Wanda Mankin, the elementary school principal, aren't concerned about the numbers but rather the children within the numbers. That's why on Tuesday they invited two counselors to come to the school and meet with any children who wanted to come in and talk, even though school is out. "You don't want it to fester,” Chancey said, following up his statement about anger. "You want to address it. Don't let it build.” Chancey, who has worked in the Graham School District for 16 years and has been superintendent for 13 of those, said "The last time ...” the school had counselors available after Johnson's death. Mankin said, "The last time, some students couldn't come back and walk the same halls.” They don't want to lose children to the anger and all that comes with a horrible act such as what occurred Sunday. At Graham School, east of Weleetka, two grades share the same classroom. Fifth and sixth are in the same room, and physical education and computer training are the only courses outside that classroom. The students are very close. Chancey and Mankin don't want to lose anyone to this pain — children or adults. Placker, who was the only girl in her sixth-grade class along with four boys, and Whitaker, who was in a fifth-grade class with four girls and one boy, had an incredible impact on adults. In such a small school, the teachers and administrators wear many hats. Chancey drives the bus. At five minutes to 8 each morning, he would pull to a stop on the rural road in front of Placker's house. Amid all the pain, this memory makes him laugh. "Taylor would pop out of the door and come flying down the hill,” he said. "She would slow just enough for me to let her know if it was OK to cross the road. Then she would continue flying down the hill so fast that she would have to go past the bus to stop and then circle back. "Every day she came through the door of that bus, she had a smile on her face.” That was lost Sunday. And so was this. Ida Lawson has taught at Graham for 31 years. Her many hats include not only teaching seventh- through 12th-grade science, but also serving as a local 4-H sponsor. Whitaker had taken rocketry and was enrolled in an arts and crafts class scheduled for this week. But it was a quilting class that Lawson remembered on Tuesday as the 4-H club held a fundraiser for the families of the girls, selling drinks and cookies as the Oklahoma FreeWheel bicycle tour came through. By noon, more than $2,000 had been raised at the 4-H fundraiser alone. Bryan Smith, 13, shared about how Placker and Whitaker never caused trouble. "Taylor was the smartest in the whole class,” he said. "And I remember Skyla was always laughing and always had a smile on her face. If you look at her pictures, she always had a smile.” Those things and so much more were lost Sunday night. Contributing: Robin Kickingbird, news researcher
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