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Mayor Reflects On Washington State School Shooting

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. Four Marysville high school students in Washington State remain in the hospital two days after being shot by a classmate. Police are still trying to understand why a student pulled out a handgun in a crowded school cafeteria on Friday killing one student and himself. Local leaders have been working to get their community through the first 48 hours after the attack. Last night, we spoke with the mayor of Marysville, Jon Nearing.

MAYOR JON NEARING: We're still right in the middle of just trying to digest it to be honest with you. Our community is still in the grieving phase for sure. And I anticipate that will continue for some time. What will define our community is how we bounce back from this. And that started with the police and EMS response yesterday, right on through the day as people, by the thousands, came out to hug and cry with one another and take the very initial steps towards recovery. But we're nowhere near coming out of the grieving process on this.

MARTIN: I understand that your community, the Marysville School District, was one of three school districts in the State of Washington that was selected for this grant, a $10 million federal grant, specifically to improve mental health services for students. Can you tell me what you know about that grant and why this was something that the community felt it needed?

NEARING: Yeah. I mean, I think it speaks real well of our school district that they were thinking along these lines prior to this event. In fact, our school superintendent was down at a meeting in Olympia just yesterday morning kind of outlining how this was going to work. And that was when she was notified of the shooting. So it's a coincidence, but nevertheless, it was something they were thinking of ahead of time. And I think it speaks highly of the district that they saw that as something that should pay attention to.

MARTIN: Clearly, you and your colleagues in Marysville had the presence of mind to start thinking about what to do to prevent something like this from happening - thinking about mental health and protecting your students. Why is that? What is the scope of the problem?

NEARING: Well, I can assure you, we had absolutely no inclination that something like this would ever hit our community. But I can tell you, we're proactive community. We see the issues on our streets of folks that have mental illness, you know, that are homeless and dealing with addictions and whatnot on the street. And that's a conversation that we're having at the county level here. And it's really happening all across the nation. So I just think that's what it boils down to.

MARTIN: There are thousands of men and women around the country - mayors like you who are trying to figure out how to protect their communities from exactly what has happened to your's this past week. I wonder what, if anything, you can say to them.

NEARING: You know, you never expect this to happen in your community. You see it on the news, and you think, boy that's a tragedy. And then all of a sudden, it hits home with you. I can tell you that, you know, you can do a lot of preparation work like our police department has done. But preventing these things is really a whole 'nother issue. And I think that, at the end of the day, this is a much bigger issue than Marysville or any of the communities that have suffered through it. And it's something that we'll be dealing with, I'm sure, for quite some time.

MARTIN: Marysville Mayor Jon Nearing. Thank you so much for talking with us.

NEARING: Sure. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.