Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
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Explaining death to a child: how Chocachatti parents are coping

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BROOKSVILLE - Hundreds of parents on Monday were confronted with a sudden decision: whether and how to explain to their children why two of their classmates, shot by their father before he turned the gun on himself, would not be coming back to school.

"It's not a conversation you really want to have with your 9- or 7-year-old," said Chocachatti Elementary School parent Michelle Summers.

Summers said she didn't discuss with her children the deaths of Sabastian Castrillon, 7, and Susanna Castrillon, 8, who died this weekend at the hands of their father, Daniel Castrillon-Oreggo, 39.

Summers said she and her husband spoke about when to approach their children, but ultimately decided not to bring up the matter if their children didn't ask about it.

"If they come to us, we'll answer those questions at that time," Summers said.

Pedro Diaz's daughter, who had gym class with Sabastian Castrillon, 7, had questions.

"Yesterday we had a conversation with my daughter, who was asking why he got mad and killed both of them, and I said, 'No, some other stuff was going on,'" Diaz said, adding it was difficult for his daughter to reconcile the memories of her classmate's face with the thought that he was gone. "Kids need to feel safe around us, not fear us."

Lesli Bland, a firefighter with children in third and fifth grades, said school officials told students in grades four and above about the situation, and that her fifth grader mentioned the shootings at home Monday.

"I don't know how they process it, but she said she wished he had waited until after Halloween," Bland said. "They were up early this morning, so I know they were thinking about it last night. They were up earlier than they normally would be."

Bland said she intended to speak with her children about it, particularly her youngest, because she recognized Susana Castrillon from her daughter's class.

"I'll let them start (the conversation), and see how the day went today, and whether anyone was sad at school and let them talk about their feelings," she said.

Eddy Zurita's daughter is in kindergarten and was not affected by the tragedy, he said. But he also has two nieces at the school closer in age to Susana and Sabastian Castrillon.

"As a family, we haven't really touched base with her about it," Zurita said. "We've just been explaining that life is something that comes and goes, and to value the time she's here, and if she hears or sees anything to be sure she's safe, but that's a really tough discussion to have with your kids."

Chocachatti Principal Lara Silva said the district's Department of Student Services has been working with students, and offering guidance for the school.

"What we're doing here is just keeping these children in our thoughts," Silva said. "For the family, to give them that privacy and that time to heal, and we have them in our thoughts and hearts."

Media Relations Specialist Roy Gordon said a ceremony has not been planned for the slain students, but said something likely is in the works.

There is a small memorial in their honor at their home, he added, and crisis teams and grief counselors are at the school.

"Today is the first day most of (the students) are aware of it," Gordon said Tuesday. "For some folks it's going to take awhile, and I think it's hard for second and third graders to grasp that their classmates aren't coming back."

Gordon said the atmosphere at the school is returning as much to normalcy as it can, and teachers who were out of class Monday grieving have resumed teaching again.

"We have folks trained as grief counselors, and they're working with both staff and students, primarily (Monday) with staff," said Gordon. "Students exhibiting behavior that is unusual, they'll involve them. It's not going to be a one day thing and they're out of there."

Grief counselors will remain at the school for as long as they are needed, Gordon said.

mreinig@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5271

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