Children honor classmates slain during Thanksgiving

Parents, schools help students cope

November 27, 2007|By Melissa Harris and Larry Carson | Melissa Harris and Larry Carson,Sun reporters

What could have been a day of anguish at Glenwood Middle School turned into a day of action.

During lunch, students created sympathy cards and signed long, brightly colored memorial banners to honor their classmate David Brockdorff, 12, whose father killed him, his mother and two younger siblings Thanksgiving Day and then turned the rifle on himself.

Principal Rick Wilson said that students used the long holiday weekend to mourn David's death and arrived prepared. The most common question he fielded from students was "How can I help?"

Students proposed dedicating a section of the yearbook to David and building a peace garden to honor him and other Glenwood students who have died.

Yesterday, crisis response teams were at Glenwood Middle and Lisbon Elementary in western Howard County, where David's siblings, Megan, 10, and Brandon, 6, had attended school since the fall.

"We basically acknowledged there had been a tragic accident, and we wanted to reassure the children they were safe, and that we are here to talk," said Lisbon Elementary Principal Jayne Diggs.

Lisbon officials realized that many older students knew that the deaths were not accidental and encouraged them to get more details from their parents, Diggs said.

According to police, late Thanksgiving afternoon, Gail L. Pumphrey, 43, of Woodbine drove the children to Unity Park in a isolated part of northern Montgomery County to hand them off to her ex-husband, per their divorce agreement.

David P. Brockdorff, 40, arrived in a Nissan Altima that was reported stolen in Frederick County on Nov. 19, said Lt. Porsha Jones, a spokeswoman for Montgomery County police. He was armed with a .22-caliber rifle that he is believed to have purchased legally, police said.

A Maryland-National Capital Park Police officer found the slain family several hours later. The two boys were found in the Altima and Pumphrey, a flight attendant for US Airways, and her daughter were found in her Ford Taurus. Brockdorff was found about 100 feet into the woods with a single gunshot wound.

Ivan Croft, chairman of Howard County schools' crisis intervention team, said that students at Lisbon and Glenwood will have different needs this week. For older children, "rumor control" is key, as is allowing them time to figure out how the tragedy relates to them "as a friend, as a sibling and certainly as a child."

With younger children, Croft said, even understanding the deaths is difficult - because it was done by their father, because it was violent and because the whole family was killed.

"Putting it all together is very unsettling," Croft said. "The strategy is to focus on very basic facts."

Larry Thompson of Mount Airy said that his 10-year-old daughter had been skipping recess with a group of students, including Megan Brockdorff, to prepare for a geography bee at Lisbon Elementary. Thompson, 41, said that he would have preferred to give his daughter an abbreviated version of the tragedy but knew that other parents would be sharing more details.

"We sat her down Friday night - she was upstairs playing - and told her we had some bad news," Thompson said. "One of her classmates had died. She asked who it was, and when we told her she started crying."

During the course of the weekend, Thompson said, his daughter approached his wife with questions.

"Incrementally, we led her to what happened," he said.

Wilson, who rolled up the four memorial banners hanging in the hallway early yesterday afternoon, said parents' work was obvious at school yesterday.

"Our parents did a great job preparing their students," Wilson said. "The questions that I was fielding from students; the appropriateness in their responses; their ability to articulate in written form and verbalize their feelings. It was obvious their parents had talked to them over the weekend. We didn't see a lot of raw emotion coming out."

According to school officials, a viewing for the family will be held from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. tomorrow at Evangelical Lutheran Church, 31 E. Church St., Frederick. A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday at the church.

Helping children understand

A letter sent to parents of Glenwood Middle School students yesterday suggested strategies for dealing with concerns that a child may have after the death of a classmate. They include:

Listen to your child's story. Provide simple, accurate information in response to questions.

Encourage your child to express his or her feelings. Talk about your own feelings.

Talk to your child about your personal value system and your family's religious beliefs about death and loss.

Support your child and be patient with his or her feelings.

[Source: Howard County public schools]

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