A teenage girl recovering in a local hospital’s intensive care unit has become the catalyst for a surge of Wolverine pride in the Watkins Mill High School community.
Janaya Richards, 15, was struck by a Montgomery County police cruiser Friday night after the Gaithersburg school’s football game against Clarksburg High School. After being rushed to Suburban Hospital that night, parents, teachers, alumni and peers expressed deep concern and hope for her recovery.
“The night it happened ... there were these conversations on Twitter,” Watkins Mill parent Toni Marsh said. Students started the hashtag #PrayForJanaya, asking others to keep the 10th-grade student in their thoughts.
Janaya was struck as she stepped off the sidewalk to cross Apple Ridge Road, The Gazette previously reported. She suffered head trauma and bone fractures, according to a letter from Watkins Mill High School principal Scott Murphy, posted on the school’s website.
Marsh, a Montgomery Village resident, is coordinating support for Janaya’s family through the school’s Booster Club and Parent-Teacher-Student Association.
Emails and phone calls “came from all over,” Marsh said. Parents, teachers and alumni contributed more than a dozen dinners to the family — enough to hold the Richards family over until mid-October, Marsh said.
Through tweets and memos from the principal, students are being updated on Janaya’s recovery. On Tuesday morning, Watkins Mill student Anyea Parham, 15, said she didn’t know Janaya, but knew she was in stable condition and “getting better every day.”
School and county counselors spoke with “a handful” of students on Monday, including a few who witnessed the accident, Murphy said.
School counselor Kevin Horkan said a student told him about passing by the spot where the police cruiser hit Janaya, a trigger that brought back a flood of memories.
Watkins Mill student Betsy Quintanilla, 16, said fights that drew the police could have started because of a long-standing rivalry between her school and that night’s opponent, Clarksburg High School.
“At other [Watkins Mill] football games, there are rarely any fights,” she said.
Rebecca Innocenti, a spokeswoman for county police, said the incident still is being investigated. Though eight officers already were at the football game Friday night, more were sent to the school after multiple 911 calls reporting fights in the surrounding area, she said.
“A lot of people have identified [those involved] as students,” but it is not certain which schools they attend, Innocenti said.
The Watkins Mill Wolverines will play their homecoming game Friday night against Rockville High School. A standard police presence will be in place at that game, Murphy said.
The officer driving the police cruiser at the time of the crash was Cpl. Raymond Bennett, an officer in the county’s 5th District. Bennett and three other officers who gave Janaya first aid have been placed on paid administrative leave pending an investigation, said Capt. Paul Starks of the county police.
The principal of Watkins Mill said he is “extremely confident” the attendees of Friday’s game will be safe on school grounds.
Staff writer Alan J. McCombs contributed to this article.