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WEST VALLEY CITY — A crucial conversation is beginning to open up at Hunter High School, two weeks after a deadly shooting that took the lives of two teens.
The conversation focuses not only on violence prevention and safety, school district officials and organizations say, but also about how the school and community can grow and heal.
The Jan. 13 shooting, which took place near Hunter High School during lunch break, ended with 14-year-old Tivani Lopati and 15-year-old Paul Tahi dead, and 15-year-old Ephraim Asiata critically injured.
"When this happened, it was automatic for us to say, 'OK we need to step in and we need to support,'" said Lulu Latu-Wolfgramm. She is the director of Empowered Living Services and youth coordinator for the organization Pacific Island Knowledge 2 Action Resources.
She said the organization aims to connect with the Pacific Islander community, talk about how to come together as a community, create violence prevention and teach that knowledge to strengthen the community.
Latu-Wolfgramm explained that they've visited Hunter High School in the past to give presentations to students.
"We reached out and asked if there was any way we could participate in the class, by coming in and just creating a space to discuss some things with the kids, see if we could get them to open up," she said.
PIK2AR visited the People of Polynesia class Thursday. She said PIK2AR staff started off sharing about themselves and their own backgrounds. They then opened it up for the kids to share, in what she and others described as a powerful and emotional discussion about what students have been feeling and struggling with.
"There was some tears shed, there was some laughter, there was a lot of mixed emotions in there, and it was great because I think this is what's needed," Latu-Wolfgramm said. "In order for us to break the barriers, we've got to create that comfort and that trust with the kids so that we can be able to engage with them."
As those conversations start to blossom, questions have surfaced after new details were released in charging documents this past week.
The documents reveal that detectives believe the 14-year-old suspect and another student each brought loaded guns to Hunter High School on the day of the shooting.
In interviews with police, others said that the shooting stemmed from issues between two different groups that apparently date back more than a year.
Ben Horsley, spokesman for the Granite School District, relayed that they've reviewed multiple clips of surveillance camera footage of the groups interacting on the day of the shooting but saw no violence on school grounds, and no indication students brought guns to school.
"How these children are coming into possession of a weapon, I think, is the bigger question and concern that we as a community need to address," he said.
Horsley indicated that any physical confrontations between the two groups took place off school property.
"The district and the school have received no such reports of bullying, harassment, fights on school property prior to this incident," he said.
He also indicated that the school district only found out about the issues after it was too late. He said they have security systems and protocols in place, but they need students to report any unsafe behaviors they see — even if they occur off campus.
"Without people bringing these things to our attention, we're at a loss," he said.
To help connect with students and begin the critical conversations like the one PIK2AR sparked on Thursday, Horsley said the district plans to bring in different groups to the school and hopes to host a community-wide forum.
"Schools cannot do it alone," he stressed. "We need families, we need parents, we need community members."
Lopati's family issued a statement Friday condemning bullying, but saying it doesn't justify killing.
After Thursday's discussion, Latu-Wolfgramm said PIK2AR created next steps and plans to visit the school again throughout the semester. She urged parents to talk to their kids and come from a place of sharing emotions while listening.
It's time for violence prevention, Latu-Wolfgramm said, not violence intervention.
"The message to everybody should be: Let's take a little more time to listen, to understand," she said. "And let's help our kids and our community grow and learn from this."