Looking for the helpers

I mentioned in my last post about the Las Vegas shooting that I would follow Mr. Rogers’ advice and look for the helpers. We’ve done that in our class news meetings this week, and I wanted to share the results.

To start, the exact quote, according to the Fred Rogers company website goes like this:  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

With my class of fourth- through sixth-graders, I realized I should back up and start by giving them a bit of background about  Mr. Rogers.  Something like:  “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a television show back in the days before YouTube and even before cable television, when there were only three or four channels to watch and you had to see them on an actual t.v.  in your house. One of the channels is known as Public Broadcasting Service,  and its goal is not just to make the shows that will get the most viewers, but instead to serve the needs of the public.  It gets funding from tax dollars and donations to do this. And people decided that one of those needs was the needs of children, for children to be able to watch shows made for them, shows that would help them learn and understand their world.  One of those shows was ‘Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ and it was basically a show where a really nice, comforting guy would walk into his house and change into his sneakers and his cardigan sweater and then introduce some puppet shows and other segments, but part of it also was that he just talked to children.  And he was very gentle and soft-spoken and he would talk to kids like they were real, intelligent people. The show was for children younger than you, pre-school age. And I think one of the most important things about the show was that the kids watching it could really tell that Mr. Rogers cared about them.

“One of the things he said, not on his show but in real life, is this:  ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’  I want to talk about that today.

“We’ve heard about the mass shooting in Las Vegas and know some details of how horrible it was, how many hundreds of lives were affected.  And when you think about it: every one of those people had other people who know and care about them and their lives now have been changed forever, too.  It’s a hard thing to talk about. It’s hard to even think about, to imagine. So I thought maybe now, we would find the helpers, we could find the people who tried to help the other people around them, sometimes even though they knew they were putting themselves in danger.”

And here are some of the stories we discussed:

  • Rob Ledbetter, a 42-year-old U.S. Army veteran, who was at the concert with his wife and brother.  When the shooting broke out, his brother was shot and injured, but together they managed to find cover.  Once they were safe, he started helping injured people.  Another man gave him the flannel shirt he was wearing to use as a tourniquet. He helped several injured people before the barrage of gunfire prevented him from helping any more.
  • Travis Haldeman, an off-duty firefighter who was at the concert with his wife when they heard the shooting start. They made it to safety, and he then returned to help the injured, also helping people fleeing make it out safely. “I looked around and saw a lot of people that could benefit greatly from my experience and calmness,” he said. “It was just a split-second gut decision that I had to make.”
  • This next story, for me, was a particularly hard one.  I warned everyone ahead of time that I wished it had a happy ending. Instead, it was heartbreaking.  It’s about Kody Robertson and Michelle Vo, both 32, who met at the festival and were becoming friends when the first shots were fired. She was hit by a bullet and fell to the ground; he threw his body over hers. When the shots stopped, he and another man carried her to a truck to get her to a hospital. He ran back to help more of the injured.  Meantime, he also found her purse and tracked down her cell phone. Then he started going to hospitals to try to find her, but many were under lock-down and it was hard to get information. Her family was calling her phone, frantic; he promised them he would keep looking and tell them what he learns.  
  • Johnathon Smith, who is credited with saving at least 30 people at the scene.  “Everyone’s been using that word — ‘hero.’ I’ve been saying it since the whole time I got home — I’m not a hero, I’m far from a hero. I think I just did what anybody would do,” he said. While saving others, he was shot in the arm and in the neck.  An off-duty police officer, Thomas McGrath, then dragged Smith to safety, putting his own fingers in the wounds to stop the bleeding. “Through this tragedy I remember, nobody suffered alone. When people were dying there was somebody there who was holding their hands or holding them in their arms, comforting them,” McGrath said. “When people had injuries, no matter how severe it was, (people were) trying to get them to safety, nobody suffered alone.”

It was a hard week, in terms of news meetings, and I had difficulty gauging when we should move on and whether the discussions were too difficult.  Toward the end of the week, the mother of  one of my students stopped by to talk,  Her son is an anxious sort, and she’d worried about whether talking about the news would be too much for him.  Instead, she wanted to let me know, it’s had the opposite effect: he’s coming home talking about what’s going on in the world and is able to go to sleep easily and without his usual anxiety at night.

He’d tried to explain to her some of what we’d been talking about in terms of Las Vegas, how we were focusing on the good.

“We’re not saying it’s good that it happened,” he emphasized.  “But just that there’s good  everywhere, even where bad things happen. There are always good people.”


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