Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Community regroups after school tragedy

Parents, students, teachers remember slain Flowers High student

E-mail this article \ Print this article

Determined to move on from a fatal shooting blocks away from their school, Charles H. Flowers High School parents, staff and students gathered the evening of Jan. 24 to remember Cherrese Richardson-Frederick and reestablish Flowers’ reputation as a high-achieving school.

Richardson-Frederick, 18, of Upper Marlboro was shot in the head and killed after a Jan. 8 drive-by shooting about one-quarter of a mile from the school. Richardson-Frederick, a senior and member of the Flowers’ Student Government Association, would have graduated this spring.

Hosting the program, ‘‘Power, Productivity, and Promise in Developing Our Young People,” Flowers’ Principal Helena Nobles-Jones wanted parents, whom she said gave notes, gifts and hugs, to know she was OK. Nobles-Jones said her students suffered two losses in one week: Richardson-Frederick and the school’s reputation. But Nobles-Jones said there are still many county youth who would do whatever it takes to enroll at Flowers.

Nobles-Jones said admired the students’ resilience through tragedy.

‘‘They believed in themselves and ... didn’t let others sway them,” she said. ‘‘They survived. These kids refocused.”

Richardson-Frederick’s mother, Wilhelmina Frederick, sat on stage next to the Rev. Be Louis Colleton of Landover’s Shiloh Baptist Church. She thanked the community for the outpouring of support she and her family received.

‘‘Words could never express how I feel,” Frederick said. ‘‘God is so good and he has definitely held me in his unchanging hands. I take one minute, one hour, one day at a time. I know Cherrese loved her school and was happily looking forward to prom, picnic and celebrating with her classmates.”

SGA secretary Chanel Outley said the students at Flowers are always reaching for success and their desire to be educated never fades.

‘‘Every child is born with a promise,” Outley said. ‘‘The students at Charles H. Flowers understand that success is the only option. We ask you to stand behind us.”

Nobles-Jones’ friend and guest, Del. Joanne C. Benson (D-Dist. 24) of Landover, said she has spent 40 years as a teacher and administrator in the county’s public schools and principals do not come any finer than Nobles-Jones.

‘‘She takes these children personally,” Benson said. ‘‘Ladies and gentleman, as an educator, I know what it’s like to be a principal. This is a lonely job. I can’t describe to you what a principal has to go through in the course of a day. Do you not know that in a number of instances that the only time our children hear a kind word of encouragement is in the school system?”

Bowie resident Dee Marshall, whose daughter is a sophomore at Flowers, said although her daughter was not friends with Richardson-Frederick, she remembered her as someone who looked out for the younger students in the school and made sure they got to class on time. Marshall said the school did an excellent job in notifying parents through phone and mailed letters about the incident.

‘‘Even after the incident had occurred, we prayed every night,” Marshall said. ‘‘If anything we felt safer again.”

Nobles-Jones said her kids are not afraid to come to school, but she still felt it was necessary to ease any remaining parental fears.

‘‘I had a tragedy,” Nobles-Jones said. ‘‘I had a challenge. I knew where my parents are. They’ve just been so supportive.”

E-mail Natalie McGill at