West Liberty-Salem Local Schools recognized Thursday the first anniversary of a school shooting with a day of service.
On Jan. 20, 2017, then 17-year-old Ely Serna allegedly brought a gun to West Liberty High School with a gun and shot fellow student Logan Cole twice, who survived, deputies have said. He also allegedly shot at a teacher before shooting classroom door windows, according to a report from the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office.
Serna will be tried as an adult and faces numerous charges, including two counts of attempted murder.
Since then, the district and community have been trying to move forward West Liberty-Salem Middle and High School Principal Greg Johnson said. The district hosted its first Tiger Stronger Day. The idea came from other schools who have experienced similar events.
“Just kind of early on they told us start anticipating, start preparing, because the anniversary date, whether it’s the one, two, three, five-year anniversary, can be really difficult,” Johnson said.
So the district put together a committee of faculty and students, and surveyed all high school students about what they wanted to do.
“The high school students wanted to do something to recognize, obviously not to celebrate, but to recognize and really liked the idea of how can we use this opportunity to kind of give back,” Johnson said.
They decided to thank the community, first responders, other schools and everyone who rallied around the district.
The day started with brunch served to all of the high school kids and doughnuts and other items to the lower grades by community members and volunteers. Sophomore Noah Hairston enjoyed the brunch and said it was a day to remember the shooting.
“We are strong all together,” Hairston said. “We are strong and we can overcome anything.”
Junior Jillian Kirkham remembers the school shooting like it was yesterday.
“I was actually in the room next door, which is three doors away from where it happened,” Kirkham said. “I was just focused on making sure my friends got out and that I could get out, too. I was actually on autopilot. I wasn’t really sure what was happening until after it happened.”
It’s important to forget the bad, she said, because the students were scared when they came back. Tiger Stronger Day helps create new memories, she said, and erase fear.
Students in all grades came together and worked on projects Thursday. They made posters, banners, thank you cards for those who helped after the shooting, including chew toys for therapy dogs that came to the school.
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“We had some therapy dogs that came in that next week and the student body really appreciated that,” Johnson said.
Volunteer Amy Pratt was on hand for the event and she helped serve breakfast.
“I was here in the days after the shooting last year with my therapy dog,” Pratt said. “The kids loved her. Everywhere we went, we’d have high school kids laying on the floor with this big dog, cuddling.”
It was good to see faces light up again, she said.
The district hopes Tiger Stronger Day will become a yearly event.
BY THE NUMBERS:
1,300: Students in the district
35: Community volunteers who helped served breakfast to students
65: Students who worked to create posters and gifts for first responders and others who helped after shooting
Staying with the Story
The Springfield News-Sun first broke the news of the school shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School on Jan. 20, 2017, and has continued to dig into the story ever since, including coverage examining school safety and tracking the suspect’s court case.