The hands putting up the brightly colored rainbows, hearts and flowers on the walls of the library at Emerson Elementary School Thursday belonged to teachers, friends and classmates of Amir Hassan, the fourth-grader who was found dead inside his Shattuck Avenue apartment Wednesday morning.
There were also those who didn’t know him but had gathered in the room to celebrate his life nonetheless.
As one second-grader put it, “Amir was everybody’s friend.”
The school grieved within its four walls Thursday, teachers and students comforting each other and sharing memories of the cute eight-year-old who was no longer among them.
“I miss you Amir,” was written in almost every color, and some students were still crying.
When Emerson Principal Susan Hodges broke the news to each classroom Thursday morning, it had sent waves of shock around the close-knit Emerson community.
“They are all in pretty bad shape,” Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson Mark Coplan told the Planet.
“It’s hurting really bad. We have very little knowledge of what really happened since this took place out of school. And when it comes to the student we can’t really talk about him.”
Second graders Raj and Kalyan Vellanki said their teacher had shown a picture of Amir in class Thursday.
“We were told to draw pictures and put it up in the library if we wanted to,” Raj said as he walked home with his mother.
“I drew a red cross,” said eight-year-old Jacob, “Amir was a good friend, everyone knew him.”
Hodges, who had been close to Amir, told the Planet she wasn’t talking to the press.
Coplan said counseling services had been set up at the school immediately after the news broke.
“Drop-in centers have been set up where kids can come in and draw, read or sit quietly,” he said. “We will have three or four counselors available to help with the situation. More will be brought in if necessary.”
According to a letter sent out to Emerson families by Hodges, Hassan had been attending Emerson for the last three years. “This news will be very painful for the children and you,” the letter said. “If your child is having difficulties as a result of this tragic news, please know that the City and the School District are making counselors available here for the support of our students ... We are a strong community, and we will work to take care of one another in this time of grief.”
A phone message had also gone around to parents asking them to keep kids away from stories in the media about Hassan’s death.
“We don’t want to confuse the kids,” Coplan said. “No one really knows what happened. Once the police figure out the cause of his death, the counselors will tell the principal and the teachers how to break the news to the students.”
He added that parents had also been reminded to use every opportunity to remind their children how much they love them.
Harvey Tureck, the city’s mental health director, said that counselors had been deployed to the school to provide crisis management and support.
“There’s a mobile crisis team as well as a family and children’s program present at Emerson right now,” he said. “We do this frequently when a tragedy happens. They tell parents how to answer questions from children and provide support.”
District superintendent Michele Lawrence praised Emerson’s efforts to handle the crisis at the school board meeting Wednesday.
“I am really pleased with the way the principal brought in the counselors and talked to the children,” she said. “The school was completely in control of the situation.”