Three mass shooting deaths ripple through small lakeside town of Winthrop
School officials have confirmed that three of the victims of Wednesday's mass shootings in Lewiston were connected to the lakeside town of Winthrop, west of Augusta. They include a 14-year-old Winthrop High School student and his father.
The community is now reeling from the tragedy, and school administrators are working through how to support their students and staff, even as buildings stay closed.
Winthrop Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said the past few days have been devastating for the district. Hodgkin said he first found out that the uncle of a student was killed in Wednesday's shootings, and administrators next learned that 14-year-old Aaron Young, and his father, Bill, were gunned down at Sparetime Recreation.
"You know, a lot of my administrators, and teachers, that have been on board for a long time, seeing that young man come through the system — very, very well respected, a nice young man," Hodgkin said. "There's that real sad mix of sadness and anger. It's so senseless, what happened. And for all of these innocent victims, to have to experience this and leave our communities dealing, trying to make some sense of it, it's just been really, really hard."
Aaron's uncle described the high schooler as a "gentle and thoughtful" kid who loved bowling and spending time with his dad. Family members said Bill was hardworking, funny, and he and his wife were always the first to lend a hand.
The chair of the local school board says the killings have "rocked" what she describes as a very tight knit community. And Democratic state Rep. Tavis Hasenfus, who grew up in Winthrop, said the ongoing manhunt has made it difficult for residents to find the closure they need.
"Just in my family, our kindergarten daughter asked, 'You know, did they catch them yet?' So I think every family around here knows that there's a crisis going on, and we're all on edge for it," Hasenfus said. "And I think we do need to start the grieving process. And it is hard, when you know that the perpetrator is still at large."
Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said figuring out how to talk through that tragedy with hundreds of students is a huge challenge — particularly as school buildings stay closed.
On Friday, Winthrop's schools offered "virtual office hours" — online meetings for staff, students and parents to talk through their grief with counselors and each other.
And Emily Fortin, the district's social worker, said that in recent days, staff have prepared a plan to support students and staff as they return to their classrooms.
"We realize that right now, we're in a very unique situation, where we've experienced a humongous loss. And yet, we're still dealing with an active crisis. And we know that that brings up a lot of feelings," Fortin said.
"And so our main training so far with staff has been, 'There's no wrong feeling,'" Fortin adds. "And that will be our messaging to our students, as well. And that feelings are like waves, and they're going to change constantly. And just to be present and listen to those."
On Monday, the district plans to start classes two hours late in order to give teachers time to meet with crisis teams and discuss how to talk about the killings with their students. Administrators also plan to bring in additional clinicians.
"I'm not sure there's two hours worth of messaging that we need to provide to them," Hodgkin said. "But I think we, between what we have to say to them, and help them be prepared for students, and just giving them a time to deal with the reality of being with each other, and hugging each other, and just being there, that's going to take the full time."
Hodgkin said coming to terms with that loss will also take time.
"Quite a bit of time," he said. "I have no idea how much time. But it will definitely not be, we get back to school, everything will be fine. It won't be that way."