‘She loved everybody:’ School remembers A’yanna Allen

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, December 6, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

SALISBURY — Everyone at Koontz Elementary School knew 7 year-old A’yanna Allen by her smile.

“She loved everybody,” Michelle Weaver, a former teacher of A’yanna said.

Weaver taught A’yanna two years ago in kindergarten, and said that she was an outgoing child who insisted on giving hugs to everyone she saw.

“She was just this bouncing, loving child with a smile on her face all the time and beads in her hair,” Weaver said.

The second-grader passed away over the weekend in a tragic incident that has rocked the Salisbury community.

Early Sunday morning, Salisbury Police were called to 200 Harrel Street to investigate a shooting. The house, where A’yanna was staying with her grandmother, Shirley Robinson, was struck by multiple gunshots. Robinson was wounded in the leg and taken to Novant Health Rowan Medical Center for treatment. A’yanna was found dead at the scene.

Monday at Koontz Elementary, Principal Yakisha Clemons said the school works to be a close-knit family, and A’yanna’s death has hit hard.

“We really wanted to take today and focus on the students and meet their needs,” Clemons said.

She and Co-Principal Lori Marrero spent Monday out in the elementary school’s hallways, talking to students and helping them work through the tragedy. Marrero described the work as “keeping our finger on the pulse of the entire school.”

And everywhere they went today, the two heard students say, “She was my best friend.”

It didn’t matter if A’yanna had been in a different class — or a different grade — she was a friend to everyone.

Throughout the day, the two principals saw a range of emotions from students. Some were withdrawn, others confused and frightened. But Clemons, Marrero and the staff have pulled around the students to help them work through the loss.

“We’re just here to support them,” Marrero said.

The teachers and staff, too, are grieving.

“We should never have to bury a student. Never,” Marrero said.

A’yanna graced everyone with her bright smile and warm hugs — from teachers to custodians. But Weaver said that today, the students are what’s important, and she and other teachers have to be there for those who are grieving, or who feel unsafe. But together, Koontz will make it.

“Day by day, minute by minute, we rely on each other,” Weaver said.

Superintendent Dr. Lynn Moody said the district began preparing its crisis team Sunday morning.

“Without question, the most difficult part of this job is when you lose a child. Because that shouldn’t be part of any K-12 educator’s experience,” she said.

Losing a child is different from every other difficulty a school or a system can go through, “because when that happens, you lose all hope.” And it hits educators, who Moody described as “nurturers by trade,” hard.

“When you lose a child, it can’t be fixed,” she said.

Most of the time, Moody said, when a student dies it’s due to a car accident, or an illness. All are heartbreaking and hard to explain to students.

“But when a child has been shot, it’s twice as hard to explain to children about our world,” she said.

Which is why the district has a crisis team, and plan, in place — a team that deployed first thing Monday morning. Counselors available to speak to staff, students and at Koontz, Rita Foil, school system public information officer, said.

“They’ll continue to be there as long as needed,” Foil said.

The school and the district have been in contact with A’yanna’s family, and are offering them support as well, Foil said. Clemons affirmed the school’s support for the family.

“And I think that says a lot about Koontz,” she said.

Carol Ann Houpe, director of student services, said that Koontz is sending home information on how parents can support their students as they grieve.

“They grieve differently,” Houpe said of children.

A child may ask a lot of questions, be aggravated or become angry, try extra hard to be good or act like the incident did not affect them. The packets encourage parents to talk with and listen to their children — a strategy staff is taking, as well.

“If they take time to listen, they will tell us what they need,” Houpe said.

Parents of Koontz students who notice a child grieving or struggling should contact the school.

In the meantime, police are still investigating the incident. Moody said that people “could go into a rabbit hole” chasing someone or something to blame for the incident, or things that they could have done to prevent A’yanna’s death. But what’s important is where we go from here.

“I think that we tend to blame each other,” Moody said, “and I hope that we spend more time figuring out how we pull together.”

Parents of Koontz students who notice a child grieving or struggling should contact the school at 704-216-0273.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.