When a shooting on May 10 led to the death of a police officer and the suspect, and injured another officer, Hawthorne Elementary School Principal James McMillen said he, like many others in the community, received phone alerts from apps and news outlets about the incident.
"The second I saw the address that was listed where the incident occurred, my heart dropped," McMillen said.
- Photo Courtesy Of Hawthorne Elementary School
- COMING TOGETHER A local elementary school community comes together to support students and families indirectly and directly impacted by the May 10 shooting in San Luis Obispo.
The incident took place in the area off of South Higuera Street and Santa Margarita Avenue, which is within Hawthorne Elementary School's district boundaries.
McMillen recognized the area immediately because he and his staff conducted home visits during the pandemic to ensure families had what they needed for distance learning or address student struggles.
After the shooting, McMillen said he was prepared and anticipated that it was going to impact his school. The evening of the incident, his staff made contact with some of the families that lived in the direct vicinity of or within the apartment complex where the shooting happened.
"The following day I opened my email inbox and I had an email already from our Student Services Department, of a confidential list of students in all schools [within the San Luis Coastal School District], not just Hawthorne, who lived in the vicinity," he said.
The email went out to all principals and counselors so they could immediately check in with students either in person on campus or by phone. McMillen said he, a special assignment counselor, and a site counselor immediately worked together to reach these students. He also received calls from parents who said they drove by the incident with their children in the car.
"Their children naturally had questions and saw things that were quite traumatic," he said. "I also heard from families who said their student was outside playing when they heard the gunshots and a myriad of sirens."
The indirect impact was significant, and McMillen said through partnership with Hawthorne's school resource officer (SRO), they scheduled a therapy dog to be on campus for the entire week of May 17.
McMillen said a family whose unit was directly below the incident wasn't able to immediately return to their home. SLO County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Tony Cipolla said that residents inside the crime scene were evacuated for their safety.
"In this case, it was a matter of a few hours after the incident before they were allowed to return," Cipolla said.
He said in these types of situations, if an individual or a family is displaced because of a crime scene investigation, many will seek out family or friends to stay with.
"If the investigation takes an extended period of time, then the Sheriff's Office would provide resources, which include housing options," Cipolla said.
McMillen said the family was not in the unit at the time of the shooting, but furniture and the unit itself were damaged.
"They're struggling with how to process what happened, and I believe there's also trauma of 'what if we were there,'" he said.
McMillen said what happened next was a "magical outpouring" of community support.
A former Hawthorne staff member had hotel points that she donated to the family. One of Hawthorne's family advocates reached out to the school resource center to gather donations of clothing and gift cards for the family, and a monetary donation effort outside of the school started to help this family.
"It's all raised quite a bit of funding, because what is ultimately happening is the family needs to find different housing. They're not going to return to their apartment complex where the incident occurred," he said.
In a district-wide message, San Luis Coastal Superintendent Eric Prater said the district's family resource center was providing temporary lodging and access to meals, counseling services, and extra Chromebooks for technology access during that time.
"I'm absolutely reminded about the strength of our community," McMillen said. "My big learning is that our community absolutely cares and there are members of our community that don't need to know any details at all about any specific need, they just need to know that there's a family in need and the support is truly inspiring." Δ