A Victor Falls fifth grader remembered that, in Amy Erwin’s kindergarten class, the first word he learned to read and write was “happy.”
The return of staff and students to school at was “an extraordinarily difficult day,” said Ann Cook, communications director for the . The staff had prepared to face their students and break the news of Erwin’s death. Extra counselors were available to meet with grieving families and parents.
“The staff worked really hard to get ready for Tuesday,” said Cook. “They came into school on Saturday and Sunday to prepare and practice; it was a little intimidating to share that kind of news.”
Erwin, who was a third grade teacher at Victor Falls, had been with the Sumner School District for 12 years. She died Friday evening in her Enumclaw home along with her husband, Zachary Erwin.
Our sister site Enumclaw Patch interviewed Zachary Erwin's stepsister and other local community members on their reactions to the deaths,
While the event was in the news and on television, Cook said many students and parents returned to school on Tuesday not knowing Erwin was dead. Others were quite familiar with the news.
Cook said Victor Falls principal Beth Dykman contacted as many families as she could during the weekend. Parents were invited to come to school with their students on Tuesday, to be there when the official announcement was made. All the elementary teachers read a “brief and age-appropriate” announcement to the students, to let them know simply that Erwin had died unexpectedly.
Zachary Erwin was not a well-known face at the school, said Cook. She said that, to her knowledge, he didn't join his wife in any school functions.
"All the teachers were prepared to respond honestly [to questions about what happened] ... especially to the older kids, but they tried to limit those conversations so they didn’t spend a lot of time on it," said Cook.
The parents of Amy Erwin’s students gathered in a portable classroom with elementary school counselors for about an hour on Tuesday. The counselors discussed the possible behavioral signs of grieving and planned how parents and children could continue the discussion at home.
The third graders participated in a “processing activity” that allowed them some quiet time to reflect on their feelings, write a note or draw a picture that reflected their favorite memory of Erwin.
The goal, said Cook, is to keep students focused and on their daily routines. Diane Anderson, a substitute teacher and “familiar face” at Victor Falls, will replace Erwin for the rest of the school year. Cook said Anderson will work with the class to create some sort of lasting memorial.
The upcoming talent show, said Cook, will be an especially important and challenging event for Victor Falls. Erwin loved music and singing and always took an active role in the production, and Cook said the school is committed to making sure it goes forward as planned this year.
Cook said the district has been in touch with Erwin’s mother, who said she is still searching for a date and location for a funeral service.
“Across our schools, we’ve had a number of deaths over the years, both students and staff, so it’s not uncommon to see a memorial or naming piece dedicated to them,” said Cook. “Each school community comes up with something that is reflective of that person.”
While the news was difficult for the students, it has been devastating to the staff.
“She was well regarded by her colleagues. It’s pretty shocking news, she’s been part of that school for a long time," said Cook. "A lot of things brought the staff together, particularly , it really built camaraderie.”
The Victor Falls staff met Wednesday after school to check in with each other and share their grief.
Sumner School Superintendent Gil Mendoza sent the following message to staff over the weekend:
Dear Sumner School District Friends and Colleagues,
Many staff members, students and families in the Sumner School District have been touched by the news of the unexpected death of Victor Falls Elementary third grade teacher Amy Erwin and her husband. The Erwins died Friday night in what the Enumclaw Police Department believe was a murder-suicide; their investigation is ongoing.
We are all shocked and saddened by Amy’ s sudden death and the tragic circumstances. On behalf of the School Board and our District staff members, I am extending heartfelt condolences to Amy’s children, who attend school in the Enumclaw School District, and her family. We are in contact with the Enumclaw School District superintendent and, together, are working to provide support and assistance to the family during this extremely difficult time.
Yesterday Principal Beth Dykman and a Crisis Response Team supported Victor Falls teachers and staff as they met with students and families to share this sad news. The team included counseling staff, chaplains and substitute teachers who were available throughout the day and will be on call later in to the week as needed.
I would like to acknowledge Beth and the teachers and staff for the care and concern they extended to students and families as they announced Amy’ s death. Despite their personal feelings of grief and loss, the Victor Falls team demonstrated the highest level of professionalism, and calmly worked through an extraordinarily difficult day for all.
The staff at Victor Falls would like you to know and remember that:
Amy taught at Victor Falls for many years and she will be greatly missed.
She has touched the lives of many Victor Falls students over the past 12 years.
We at Victor Falls will remember her as a kind and thoughtful person, dedicated to teaching and caring for the children in her classroom.
Final arrangements are being made for a memorial service for Amy and a trust fund will be established to assist her children. This information will be available at your school or department.
Traumatic events and other crisis situations can prompt a variety of responses in both adults and children. You may experience grief reactions to this death yourself. If you or a fellow staff member is struggling and in of need support, please let your principal or supervisor know so that we may assist. Thank you for your caring for our Sumner family members.