DES MOINES, Iowa (WHO) — March 7 remains a tragic day at Des Moines East High School a year after 15-year-old Jose David Lopez was shot and killed on school grounds. However, the school community is doing what it can to move forward and find joy after the pain.
Hundreds of students and parents came to a community night at East on Tuesday night. the event offered joyful activities like food trucks and free haircuts, but it also became a place to reflect on the tragedy of the past year.
“It was hard at first, but I feel like we got through it and pushed through it,” said Samuel Sarmiento, currently a junior at East. “It was a little bit traumatizing knowing what happened.”
“It’s a bittersweet feeling, but we’re moving forward and we’re going to continue to do the best we can by one another,” said interim Des Moines school superintendent Matthew Smith. “Gun violence is still prevalent in our community. It is prevalent in our state, it is prevalent in our country. It’s going to take all of us at every level to solve this problem.”
East has rallied around the slogan “Scarlet Strong” since the shooting, and school employees say part of that strength involved opening up about emotional weaknesses.
“The more that you keep things inside, it manifests in other ways,” said Madeline Cano, a coordinator at East. “That’s why mental health has to be at the focus of what we’re doing here as a school, but also as a community.”
Tuesday’s event featured dozens of vendors, including mental health resources and job opportunities for East students and graduates.
Sarmiento said he is ready to take on the future after the hard year East experienced after the shooting.
“My dream is probably to find something where I can find happiness in life,” Sarmiento said. “I think [East] is building me as a person.”