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Preschool Reopens 9 Days After Car Killed 2 Youngsters

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Josue arrived early, tugging his mother along. Tabitha, blond ringlets bouncing, rode in on her father’s shoulders. Magenta-sweatered Taury clung to her father’s hand until a teacher swept her up in a hug.

Even Victoria, seated in a wheelchair, returned Wednesday to the South Coast Early Childhood Learning Center after more than a week’s absence.

Before finger-painting and singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” the preschool’s toddlers learned a lesson no child so young should have to take in: Two of their classmates were not returning to school, could not return to school.

Tragedy hit the Costa Mesa day-care center May 3 when, police say, Steven Allen Abrams deliberately drove his car into a play yard full of children. Students Sierra Beth Soto, 4, and Brandon Wiener, 3, were killed.

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A teacher and two other children suffered injuries serious enough to require hospitalization; they have since been released. Day-care Director Sheryl Hawkinson suffered a mild heart attack at a memorial service for the children and is recuperating at home. Abrams has been charged with murder and attempted murder.

Victoria Sherman, 5, who suffered a fractured skull and pelvis in the crash, came for a brief visit Wednesday afternoon, pushed in her wheelchair by her mother, Caroline Price. The girl seemed cheered by seeing her friends, who greeted her enthusiastically, but was tearful by the time she returned to the car.

Price said Victoria “doesn’t remember anything” about the crash.

“She thinks she fell off the swing and bumped her head,” Price said. She cannot walk or stand, but Price said doctors expect her to recover. .

The other parents who returned their children to the school when it reopened Wednesday--and the vast majority of them did--said they were determined not to let lingering fear keep them from a place full of love.

Gerry Lattimer walked his 2-year-old daughter, Tabitha, back to the day-care center, after explaining that her school had been “broken.”

“These are the bravest people I’ve ever seen,” he said. “All week, my daughter has been wanting to come back.”

“The kids are extremely resilient,” said day-care Co-Director Rande Hawkinson. “I think this is easier for them than for their parents.”

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Certainly, the 75-student school looked different Wednesday: A new chain-link fence ringed by hundreds of bouquets left by mourners blocked off the play yard. Camera crews peered into classrooms until teachers closed the blinds.

In small groups inside, children sat in a circle around grief counselor Roberta Hindin Probolsky.

She explained that people sometimes get hurt. And they don’t always get better.

“I was afraid,” one scratchy-voiced boy confessed.

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“The grown-ups were afraid too,” Probolsky said.

Times staff writer H.G. Reza contributed to this story.


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