Service helps community cope

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 8, 2008

PORTSMOUTH — Within hours of the stabbing of Notre Dame Elementary School fifth-grade teacher Christi Layne, her students, colleagues and members of the community packed St. Mary’s Catholic Church for a prayer service.

The church holds about 500 and the pews were filled to capacity with people standing in the back and in the narthex.

Amanda Queen brought her son, Brayden, to the service. She said she was at the Southern Ohio Medical Center eating in the cafeteria when it came across the radio about a stabbing at the school.

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“I just started crying, I didn’t know who was hurt or anything about it,” she said. “I was very scared, I thought something may have happened to Brayden.”

He is a first grade student at Notre Dame Elementary and didn’t see the stabbing.

“I was a little bit scared,” he said.

The school was locked down and no one was allowed to enter the building except for police. After an hour the students were released to parents.

When asked if he was ready to go back to school when it reopens, in a shaky voice he said, “No.”

Layne has taught at Notre Dame for 19 years and her current and former students were still in shock from the stabbing of the teacher in her classroom at the beginning of the school day.

Morgan Penix was in Layne’s classroom and going over an English lesson when a man walked in.

“She must have known him because she said, ‘Hi, Mike,” Penix said. “And he was just dressed in regular clothes and then he just pulled out the knife and she was like, ‘No, don’t hurt me, stay away.’ She just backed away. It was really sad.”

Penix said once students saw the stabbing, they ran and hid in the coatroom.

“Once he left, he just dropped his gun and cell phone,” she said. “We were really scared and then the police came and we all started crying for our moms and dads. We were so happy we lived.”

The students were taken out of the classroom and put in a nearby computer room.

“I didn’t want to see the blood,” she said.

Penix’s aunt Karen Collett was called to pick up her nieces, Morgan and Brooke, at the school. She said she was so upset that she had a neighbor drive her.

“I knew I couldn’t drive, I was too upset,” she said. When she arrived, she was told all the students were OK.

The Portsmouth Police Department responded within minutes and the children were released by grades after about an hour.

“I told the mayor tonight that local law enforcement was wonderful in the way it was handled,” Collett said. “To immediately have counselors was wonderful.”

Notre Dame Elementary Principal Kay Kern said that the Columbus Diocese immediately sent counselors to talk to students and would be available whenever students needed to talk.

Thad Bowman, a junior at Notre Dame High School, attended the evening prayer service with friends. Layne had been his fifth grade teacher.

“At first I didn’t really know what was going on, we were just locked in the classroom,” he said. He had a laptop and got on the Internet to find out what was happening.

“I am still in shock really. This is really a sad day.”

He said Layne was a good teacher and was always nice.

“She is a good teacher and a good person,” Bowman said.

He said he had seen her recently walking by his house.

“She loved to walk,” he said. “When something like this happens to somebody you know it is mind-boggling. But if I know her like I think I do, she will recover pretty fast.”

Senior Joey Emnett said he was shocked and scared when he heard the news because all that was being released was that a Notre Dame Elementary teacher had been shot. His mother also teaches at the school.

“But at the same time, I was saying, ‘Why anyone? Why in front of the fifth graders?” he said. “It is the beginning of their lives. They will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.”