By Dharma Bartram
On May 25th, 2016, a group of assailants, including Novato High students Edwin Guevara and Juan Carlos Martinez Henriquez allegedly attacked two other Novato students. The results were tragic, as Edwin Ramirez Guerra was killed while Llefferson Diaz was severely injured near the Marin Country Club.
Principal Matt Baldwin described how Novato High School handled the incident and the precautions that were taken during the process.
“The tough part was (figuring out) how do we take that information and make sure that we’re taking care of both sides; that we’re protecting the victims families and the victims themselves; that were protecting the rights of the students who might be involved in other ways, making sure we're communicating in the right way so that people are informed,” said Baldwin.
Baldwin was well aware of the the wide impact of the tragedy.
“From students to families to teachers to the whole community, everybody is affected but they're all affected in different ways,” said Baldwin.
Senior Grace Levy spoke to the feelings of many students in the wake of the attack.
“After the tragedy there was a lot of confusion spread throughout all forms of media,” said Levy. “Group chats were blowing up on my phone with a mix of rumors, sadness and plain disregard for what had occurred were shown, some students asking simply if school was positively canceled. Many people posted about it shocked and confused asking what was going on and news channels were at our school trying to interview us when we returned to school- for something that we had 5 days to react to we couldn't get away from it.”
Alexa Henriquez, a senior at Novato High, was familiar with both Henriquez and Ramirez. She described Henriquez as studious and hoping to support his mother and sister, while she said Ramirez was quiet, kind, and never rude.
“I felt really bad because they were my classmates,” said Henriquez. “I was really close to both of them. I watched the news and everything, and I saw it was my two friends and classmates who did that.”
The tragedy has since been connected to a gang called MS-13, who uses cellphones from prisons in El Salvador to order killings and extort immigrant-run businesses in the U.S.
As for gangs on campus, Baldwin doesn’t think gang activity is prevalent at Novato High.
“I think that there's remnants of gang activity that has happened in other communities around us. I think it comes in and out of Novato,” said Baldwin. “I’m not naive. I'm sure there's stuff in Novato that is happening that I'm not aware of.”
However, Baldwin explained how those who are new to the area or perhaps the country entirely, may get involved in gang activity by coming to the community in search of friends and companionship.
“I think that there's a lot of people who move into our area that are looking for friends and looking for people to cling onto,” Baldwin added. “In a lot of cases, we have people that come into our area from different countries all around the whole world that are looking for a place be accepted, a place to have friends and a place to kind of go to and I think be part of something. Unfortunately, a lot of times that's what gangs feed on.”
Henriquez has been able to see the impact of gang violence in the community first hand.
“They affect family, friends (and) the school. They affect a lot of people. They never think about the other person; they think just for them,” said Henriquez.
Cinthia Angelicola, the Community Liaison at Novato High, suggested that parents must make sure to communicate with their kids in order to prevent further tragedies.
“People need to reach out for help to reunite with their students,” said Angelicola.
After the tragedy, Novato High provided grief support to students with many resources necessary for healing. Angelicola helped provide these services, and continues to aide the Latino community in Novato.
“Together as a school we wanted to make sure students and their families felt safe in our campus and we wanted to make sure that those who were directly impacted by it had mental health support,” said Angelicola. “So, when we closed the school the day after the incident, we had psychologists, we had counselors. The kids who felt like they needed mental help support came and we did group and individual therapy.”
Henriquez, among other students, took solace in these services.
“It was really helpful because they told us how we need to continue our life,” said Henriquez. “It was really helpful for everyone.”
Levy, however, felt that not all students’ needs were met.
“There unfortunately wasn't a lot of staff guidance. I know many teachers tried to reach out and talk to whatever students they could over google classroom or text but there was no face to face interaction until five days after the tragedy because of holidays and staff development days. The five days that had passed allowed for the initial shock to wear off,” said Levy.
While the Novato community was deeply affected by the tragedy, the Latino community was especially impacted. Henriquez has noticed an increase in racial tension at Novato High.
“For the Latinos, it was really bad for us (and) for everyone inside and outside the school. It was really bad because after the shooting everyone was like ‘oh Latinos are really bad people’ or something like that. We are discriminated and people are more racist at this school (now). I was part of that and even the Latinos would discriminate against other Latinos,” said Henriquez.
Angelicola, however, affirms that the Latino community is now thriving one year after the tragedy, and doing better than ever.
“I feel that our english learner population here at school is doing much better than ever,” said Angelicola. “I feel hopeful that little by little that we’re tapping into those things they don’t feel part of yet.”
Baldwin described how united the Novato High community is, despite of the violent event that took place last year.
“I really do think this campus is the most unique and special campus I've been on and I’ve been on four high school campuses now,” Baldwin said. “I've never seen a campus that has a collection of students that are, in my opinion, incredibly inclusive, open, honest, passionate, caring and there for each other.”
Baldwin has viewed last year’s tragedy as something to learn from and to unify the school.
“It just seems like everybody is kinda one and that's what I love about it,” said Baldwin. “This is an isolated incident that didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the climate and culture of the school.”
Despite the fact that this incident isn’t reflective of the Novato culture, it will have a lasting impact on the community regardless.
“As time passes it definitely gets easier to look past what happened and to return to daily matters but with all tragedies the students that encountered this will probably always carry it with them no matter the weight they hold on it,” said Levy.
While the dust has settled, this case remains open and more information will be uncovered. In the meantime, students and staff will continue to heal together.