By Jose Herrera
Signal Staff Writer
Two years after the deadly school shooting at Saugus High School, the community joined together in person for its Unity of Community event to honor victims and look toward a brighter future.
The second annual Unity of Community provided the Saugus community a way to honor victims Gracie Muehlberger, 15, and Dominic Blackwell, 14, who lost their lives after a classmate opened fire on the Saugus High campus before turning the weapon on himself.
“Saugus High School has had more than its share of tragedy,” Genevieve Peterson Henry, current principal of Saugus High, said during the Nov. 5 event. “We are missing people today. And if we could change that we would. Miraculously, graciously, thankful and at times, sad and reluctantly, our community continues to move forward.”
Henry shared how she’s seen so much love, hurt and vulnerability on campus in the ways teachers, staff and students have tearful conversations or encouraging phone calls and emails to support each other.
She also acknowledged how many people are still struggling with the aftermath of the school shooting and how many parents and guardians are still concerned and uncertain about their children.
“As we partner with you and counselors to empower our students to manage life’s journey through peaks and valleys, we share successes and we don’t stop trying until we get it right,” Henry said. “As we move forward through adversity, we will never forget our heroes both on and off campus. We will never forget those here today and those forever in our hearts.”
Victoria Phan, 12th grader and executive president of the student body at Saugus, led the Unity of Community day. She introduced speakers including former Saugus Principal Vince Ferry, 11th grader Mia Tretta, who is one of the three classmates injured by gunfire, 12th grader Clara Crider and alumni Kaitlyn Thanaet.
Tretta discussed how the campus has become a difficult location for many to set foot in.
“I love it here. I made high school memories when school was normal,” she said. “But today isn’t about the place. Because no matter where, we are Centurions. It’s not really about me either, or the people. It’s about the unification of this community. This is all of you.”
It’s important that everyone can recognize their feelings whether it’s feeling depression, frustration or exhaustion, she said. It’s important to let yourself feel those emotions, but also to reach for help when you need it, she added.
The William S. Hart Union High School District offers several programs to help the Saugus High community, as well as support all of its students through its Hart District Wellness Center.
Community members can find numerous resources in English and Spanish on topics of grief, trauma recovery, self-care, stress and anxiety, suicide prevention, and more on the wellness center’s website.
There is also the Hart District Warm Line, a direct line of communication for students seeking emotional support with professionals. The line will be available Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Ferry noted that they don’t need one day to remember Gracie and Dominic because the community remembers them every single day in their hearts and mind.
“For me, this is a remembrance of the grace, strength and support the Blackwells and Muehlbergers have given to us all and have shared with us,” Ferry said.
He also reinforced Tretta’s statement about reaching out for help when a person is feeling overwhelmed by their emotions or a situation.
“Let’s make Unity of Community a reminder that no one is ever alone and that we’re always much longer together,” Ferry said.
The Muehlberger and Blackwell families founded foundations in honor of their children. Both Gracie and Dominic were known for their loving and kind spirits, and each family wanted to continue with their legacy by supporting victims of gun violence or other traumas.
To find out more about the foundations, visit graciestrong.org and dmbfoundation.org. To view the Unity of Community program, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJgM2jVvjEw&t=710s.