The news came nearly 24 hours after 9-year-old Nadia Puente had been kidnaped, and it was horrifying: Nadia was dead; her strangled body had been found stuffed into a trash can.
At the Girls Club of Santa Ana, a neighborhood gathering place where Nadia liked to go after classes at Diamond Elementary School, her friends met, talked and be gan to sob and cry.
Soon they were talking with two Santa Ana Unified School District psychologists, dispatched from the school, where four psychologists had been standing by.
“There was a great deal of crying, mourning a lost friend,” said Lucinda Hundley, director of special education for Santa Ana Unified School District. “They wanted assurance of their own safety. They needed assurance that the school, the Girls Club, are safe places.”
Hundley has seen what such a tragedy can do to a community of parents and children that surrounds every elementary school. Two years ago, another 9-year-old girl was murdered after leaving Monte Vista Elementary School, less than a mile from Diamond School.
Up to 150 parents and children came to the school for counseling.
After the discovery of Nadia’s body Tuesday in a trash bin near Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, Hundley spent the day preparing to offer the same kind of help to the community around Diamond School.
Four psychologists will be at the school days and evenings this week to help individuals, families and groups cope with the mixture of emotions that arise after such a tragedy close to home. Interpreters for Spanish and Southeast Asian languages will also be there.
“A lot of parents want reassurance too,” Hundley said. “ ‘Are the schools safe? Are the police doing something about it?’ Many show anger: ‘How could this happen to a child?’ They’re looking for an outlet for their anger.
“It’s a combination of things--anger, disbelief, shock, grief. They want to know what to do if their child is sleepless or refuses to come to school.”
And children “don’t react that much differently than adults,” Hundley said.
The psychologists will try to instruct teachers and parents what to look for in their children’s behavior that indicates emotional fallout.
If children become unusually excitable or unusually withdrawn, lose their appetites, become sleepless, cry excessively or have nightmares, these can all be danger signals.
“Sometimes fact and fantasy get mixed up, and their imaginations work overtime,” Hundley said.
But Hundley said she cannot predict what the community will need in reaction to Nadia Puente’s murder.
“The rule of thumb is to be prepared to move in when there is a need,” she said.
In the meantime, she said, teachers will reinforce what they have taught all along: Walk home with a buddy; and never, never enter a stranger’s car.