An outpouring of solidarity embraced the student, parent and teaching community surrounding Herndon Elementary School last week. The daughter of one of its teachers was among the victims in last Monday’s fatal shooting at Virginia Tech.
Reema Samaha, the 18-year-old daughter of Herndon Elementary School fifth- and sixth-grade teacher Mona Samaha, was a freshman at Virginia Tech and had graduated from Westfield High School a year earlier. The urban planning major who loved to dance was among the 32 who were shot and killed by gunman Seung-hui Cho at the college in Blacksburg on April 16.
In a show of support for Mona Samaha, the school’s children on Friday all donned orange and maroon ribbons — the school colors of Virginia Tech — while posters and Virginia Tech banners hung from the school’s walls.
The ribbons were made by Herndon Elementary School students and their families during a Wednesday night memorial prayer service for the victims at Herndon Trinity Presbyterian Church, across the street from the school. Approximately 200 people attended the service.
THE NEWS OF the tragedy that hit home for the Herndon Elementary School community sent reverberations felt by its students’ families and several members of its faculty, said PTA member Melissa Jonas. Jonas, reacting to the news, helped to organize the ribbon-making campaign for Friday.
"When I saw that [the shooting] had a link to the local community, I wanted to see if there was something we could do here locally to show our solidarity," she said. Making the ribbons for students to wear "was something that we could do to involve the kids … that it would show that the whole school supported her."
Its difficult to describe how it feels to have to bear the weight of a national tragedy and later to learn that it has directly affected someone known to one’s community, said Emily Stover. Stover’s daughter, Kara, had been taught by Mona Samaha. The Herndon mother was present at last week’s church service.
"You know that there’s going to be victims, but when you find out that you know one of them, it’s just devastating," Stover said. "The way it rushed by everyone, it came close enough to touch all of us. It sends a chill down your spine."
WHEN A TRAGEDY like this strikes someone known and loved throughout the community, a show of support is only natural, said Herndon resident Harry Lowe, whose daughter Suzanne was also taught my Mona Samaha.
"Everyone’s family is important to them, but to her, her family was her entire world," Lowe said. "Her loss has deeply touched and affected everyone in the Herndon community, especially those of us who know her personally."
When something like this occurs in the community, it always conjures up a realization of the importance and fragility of life, said Jonas.
"It definitely makes you appreciate every day you have with your family more," she said. "But what was important to me in this was seeing the support and cooperation of the teachers and the parents for the school and its loss."