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Real-Life Tragedy Hits Home at High School : ‘Good night sweet prince.’ A Santa Ana English teacher and classmates mourn death of ‘our Jose’ in a mistaken shooting.

<i> Jan Osborn is a high school teacher in Santa Ana</i>

On Friday, Feb. 26, at 7:45 a.m., Jose Luis Lopez was gunned down on the way to Century High School in Santa Ana. He was my student. He is dead, and my heart feels broken as the violence I read about hits home with a sadness I can’t describe.

Jose would have been walking into fourth-period English right about 11 that morning. He had just been assigned to play Horatio in our version of “Hamlet.” No more. We will have to cast a new friend.

I first heard the news at 8:50 a.m. My class of 40 juniors had been debating the issue of violence on television. There had been a fight in the quad before school, so violence felt real and present.

The rumor flew through the door at the end of first period: “Jose had been shot in the head.” Some students had tears in their eyes; others had anger.

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I walked toward the office to confirm the horrible reality. Students joined me; we reached out for each other, for strength. Could it be “our Jose”?

When a counselor told us it was Jose, and he was dead, our need to touch one another intensified. Alejandra grasped my hand, Laurel held my elbow. We were connected in sadness, in disbelief that the violence had penetrated Century in a way that will never be forgotten. Different ages, different ethnicities, we were human. We needed each other.

I thought of Jose, thought of the way he hung around the door to class each day, waiting for me to come out and say, “Gentlemen, we had better begin.” He knew I would be out; I knew he was waiting for me, waiting for our ritualistic greeting. With more than 180 students a day, Jose had found a way for me to acknowledge him, to say my hello. We always smiled at what we both knew.

I thought of the reflection he wrote in January at the end of his first semester as a senior: “I didn’t do too well,” he wrote, “but I will try harder next semester.” Now there would be no “next semester.” He would not graduate. His life had ended on his way to school. I try to think why. The news and rumor say it was a gang-related shooting, that Jose had been mistaken for someone else, that he was an “innocent victim.” His killer stood in the median on Edinger Avenue and put a bullet through Jose’s head. It was a terribly cruel act, an unimaginable death. They say that the killer was also 17 years old, a high school dropout.

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I mourn for Jose, for his family, for his classmates who must meet violent death in their childhood. I mourn, too, for this 17-year-old who, in a search to feel accepted and powerful, looked to a gun. I am not angry at him as much as at a society that has written off so many, that has become increasingly classist.

We are the ones who create such violence. We have forgotten our children, allowing them to go to school in crowded classrooms where their self-esteem never materializes. Then we blame them when they search for acceptance in other arenas.

Yes, “they” killed my student. But I am one of the “they.” We cannot let another day go by that justifies economic and social policies that forget children and immigrants and human beings in need. The “they” is definitely “us.”

With sadness comes my anger at a society that has dismissed its young people. We say, “Ain’t it awful?” when they are violent, but I rarely see an honest analysis of the problem. While I teach cause and effect in my senior English classes, I do not see my society thinking in terms of cause and effect as we look at the violence manifested in our areas of poverty.

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“Good night sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.” Jose knew this line. We had talked about it in class, how it was the last words for a friend. It is now for him. Good night Jose.


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