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Parkland Mayor Hunschofsky visits Central Falls



“I want to say that this has been an idea ever since I met the Mayor of Parkland,” said Central Falls Mayor James Diossa, introducing Parkland, Florida Mayor Christine Hunschofsky. “We all think that a mass shooting would never happen in a city like Central Falls, in the State of Rhode Island. When I heard the Mayor’s story, it really impacted me.”

In February 2018 a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 17 people, and injured 17 more.

“Parkland was one of the safest cities in America. If it could happen in Parkland it could happen anywhere,” said Hunschofsky. “If it could happen at Sandy Hook, up in Newtown, it could happen anywhere. So it’s very important that we learn from these events and what happened, and what we can do to makes our communities [and] our schools safer.”

Hunschofsky was in Central Falls at the invitation of Diossa, sharing the stage with Central Falls Police Department Chief James Mendonca, Central Falls Coordinator of Safety and School Operations Roberto Rivera, and Central Falls High School student Lorraine Quintero, who is also a member of Young Voices RI. They were all part of a forum on gun violence and school safety emceed by Channel 12 television reporter Caroline Goggin.

“I got a phone call from the City saying there had been an active shooter call over at Stoneman Douglas,” said Hunschofsky, recalling the day of the shooting. “My first question was, do they know that it’s a real call? And they weren’t sure. I live very close to the high school and I heard more sirens go by than I’d ever herd in my life, and I’ve lived there almost 19 years. I decided to drive over to the school myself…

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“I got there just as parents were arriving. I will never forget the faces of the parents that I saw that day, as they were getting texts from their children who were trapped in classrooms. The killer had not been caught yet. No one knew at that time who the killer was…

“The fear – I don’t even know how to describe it.

“I’ll never forget one girl who came out and she had tears rolling down her face and she literally fell into her mother’s arms –

“Parkland is a very small community with about 31,000 people. Everybody is somehow connected to someone else… So everybody knew someone who was somehow affected by this.

“At about 8:30 at night I for the first time looked at my social media and I saw that they were looking for my friend’s daughter. So I texted here, asked her if her daughter was okay. She called me. I saw the phone and figured [her daughter] must be fine. But she called me to tell me that her daughter had died.

“At one in the morning there were families that hadn’t yet heard what happened to their loved ones. I walked in and saw parents of a boy who had played baseball with my youngest son. I saw a friend who I had been with at a new business ribbon cutting earlier in the week. I saw a mom, [with whom I had] just judged a debate tournament two weeks prior… To see the fear on their faces -as a parent? – I’m here, my job is Mayor but I’ a human being. I’m a mom. This is pretty much my worst fear…”

“Over the time since there’s been anger in the community, which is completely understandable, with anger, trauma and grief comes division. But we’ve always been a community where the neighbors help each other out.”

Lorraine Quintero

Asked what she thinks is most important for her in school guidance counselors or School Resource Officers (SROs), high school student Lorraine Quintero said that, “I feel that both are so important. I know that at our school we have a good relationship with our SRO Officer. He’s very kind. We’re on a first name basis with him. A lot of us interact wit him.

“But I also think it is real important to have guidance counselors available to students if they ever need to speak with them, if they feel that there’s something going on that they need to talk about. “

The event lasted about an hour, with several questions posed by audience members.

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Steve Ahlquist is a frontline reporter in Rhode Island. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.