‘Brighter and better days’: School officials greet Austin-East students on first day

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — A welcome party of teachers, school officials and later county officials greeted students at Austin-East Magnet High School on Monday in an effort to start fresh despite the tragic death of a senior over the weekend.

“It’s amazing. It’s what I expected because it’s what Road Runners do. We show up and we encourage our students to be very supportive,” Austin-East Principal Tammi Campbell said.

17-year-old Johnkelian ‘John John’ Mathis was shot and killed early Sunday in the area of Minnesota Avenue and Pascal Drive, according to close friends.

Campbell said Sunday that the 17-year-old student to have been a senior at Austin-East. In a letter to parents and staff, she said school counselors and a crisis response team would be available for students and staff Monday. Campbell added in her letter, “Although we will open school with heavy hearts, we remain hopeful that brighter and better days are ahead for our students and school family.”

“Today was a hard day for my kids. But, we have to realize that life does go on. And even in the midst of traumatic things that happen, we are survivors,” Octovia Harper, an AE parent, said.

On Monday morning, Knox County Schools Superintendent Bob Thomas and Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs greeted students as they arrived for class. Knox County Schools will have a half-day.

Thomas said the big welcome was a great way to show the students are supported through these hard times.

“The administration here they’re going to work hard and make it the very best year  that our students can have and hopefully we can have a normal year where students can kind of get back to what they’ve been used to,” Thomas said.

The school community at Austin-East has experienced tragedy due to gun violence — both on and off-campus — since January. A total of six Austin-East students, former or current, have died from gun violence.

Thomas said it was time for everyone to stop talking and take some action so more kids aren’t killed.

“This community, the leadership, we’re going to have to do something. We’re going to have to figure out something. There has to be a solution to this. So, again, my thoughts and prayers are with the family and the relatives and the community and the students. I know it’s extremely hard,” Thomas said.

Parents couldn’t agree more.

“I would challenge the community to rally around us, and rally around the kids, and let’s come together and figure out what the root cause is. Somebody has to be held accountable,” Harper said.

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