MENOMONEE FALLS - Two members of the parent-teacher organization, a classroom teacher and an educational assistant huddled in the hallway of Ben Franklin Elementary School, wondering how they could help two students in the district cope with the loss of their parents.
According to police, 47-year-old Leon Davis, a Milwaukee police officer, shot and killed his wife Sherida, 38, in their Milwaukee home before turning the gun on himself Saturday, March 11.
Two of their children were in the home at the time of the shootings; 12-year-old Chris ran into the room and tried to perform CPR on his mother before calling 911.
School district officials were informed about the tragedy that same evening and quickly pulled together a crisis team of school psychologists, social workers, counselors and administrators.
The children, ages 12 and 8, are now in the custody of their maternal grandparents. The children took one day off school to cope and returned Tuesday, March 14; their main concern was how to tell their friends about what happened.
“We talked to their classes so that they wouldn’t feel like they had to tell the story," said Ben Franklin Elementary Principal Cassie Martin. "They could come in with people knowing already so they could have as normal of a day as possible. We went into the second-grader’s classrooms and all the classes the sixth-grader had and told the students 'this is how you can be a good friend to the boys.'"
The crisis team was on the scene across the district on the Monday following the deaths for students and staff who had questions or were coping with the news.
To help financially support the family, the group of school officials in the hallway conceived a district-wide fundraising effort called Comfort for Caring.
“We just want to check in with the boys and make sure they’re OK, and let them know we’re here for them, but every time people ask them about it, they relive it," Martin said.
The concept of the fundraiser is students and staff can donate $5 every day to dress comfortably by wearing sweatpants or pajamas until the district's spring break starts April 8.
"The reason we did that is because it’s a really nice way for the boys to visually see, 'I’m here to help you and support you' without actually talking about it," Martin said. "It’s just a signal to them that all these people are here for them.”
Martin knew the Davis family well; for her, keeping the boys' school routine as normal as possible is her priority.
"We check in with them, but we do it on the sly," Martin said. "We’re trying to create a situation where the boys' lives, or at least a portion of it, will stay the same from what happened before.”
All of the proceeds from the Comfort for Caring fundraiser will go to the grandparents, who are also taking care of a 19-year-old sibling, who is a graduate of the Menomonee Falls School District.
"The grandparents live in a smaller house; well now there’s actually three boys that are living with them who are 19 years old, 12 years old and 8 years old," Martin said. "They’re boys; they’re going to eat like crazy. Grandma’s retired and grandpa’s semi-retired. Financially, that was a nice way to support them. They got so much food through their church, the grandma said she could feed the U.S. Army.”
Martin said the boys seem to be in good spirits and have a great support system at home.
“Honestly, the boys seem to be doing really well," Martin said. "They have such a strong support system around them and the family is so supportive on both sides; they’re very strong in their faith and they have churches behind them, too. We always talk about 'it takes a village,' and this is truly where the village is coming through and it’s making a difference. I’ve always said Menomonee Falls is awesome, but that is really shown in this circumstance."
Sherida's niece, Tatiana Washington, has started a Go Fund Me campaign to help support the boys, which has raised more than $20,000 so far.
Martin, who is the primary contact for the grandparents within the district, said those who would like to donate directly to them can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.