Letter to the Editor: Teens did try to aid Khaseen Morris in Oceanside

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Teens did try to aid Khaseen

To the Editor:

As Oceanside School District’s superintendent, I am compelled to speak out about the disturbing narrative portrayed in many media outlets about an attack that led to the death of a student. Oceanside is devastated by Khaseen Morris’s death. Our hearts go out to his family and friends. Many of our young people, especially his friends and those who witnessed the brutal attack, are traumatized.

Contrary to headlines reporting that bystanders recorded video yet did not help, a number of teenagers who were present did try to render assistance. A storeowner who was interviewed said that teenagers ran in, asking him to call 911. It was reported in some but not most stories that witnesses asked storeowners for paper towels and attempted to stanch Khaseen’s wounds. One teenager reportedly ran to a nearby firehouse for help, because 911 was backed up with calls and put him on hold.

The assertion that no one helped unfairly paints the young people who were there in a horrible light. When the Nassau County police held a news conference to announce the first arrest in the case, they asked for video of the event. It’s not the first time police have made a public appeal for that type of evidence. Witnesses at the scene who were recording video may very well have been trying to help.

Our school district administrators and faculty have marshaled our resources to protect and comfort students. We hope to learn more about the details so that we can inform our community and, we hope, prevent such a tragedy from happening again. Our instinct as educators is to keep our community’s children safe, physically and emotionally. For now, we are all reeling.

We will probably never have an accurate account of this awful incident, because memory is fallible in the face of fast-moving and frightening circumstances. It will take time for the police to interview all of the witnesses and piece together as much of the real story as possible. By that time, media attention will have waned, but the stain on our young people and this community will be indelible. As an educator, an advocate for children of all ages and a representative of our school community, I cannot and will not stand for that.

The implication that a confusing, rapidly unfolding and terrifying situation that would challenge adults could have been prevented by groups of teenagers on their way home from school is not reasonable. It is an unforgiving and damaging presumption. We simply do not know the entire story, which is no doubt complicated, and cannot rush to judgment against teenagers.

Our students are not perfect. As in any community, there are sometimes young people who do not make the wisest decisions. But we have many hardworking, kind and responsible young people in Oceanside. Our students raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity, organize food drives to donate thousands of pounds of food during the holidays, serve as Best Buddies to peers with special needs, and rally around peers and families in times of struggle. I could go on. Oceanside is not Lake Wobegon, but we are a close-knit community where kindness in tough times is the rule rather than the exception.

In the weeks and months ahead, I know that our students will support Khaseen’s family and one another. We will find a way as a community to heal from this senseless tragedy and to honor the memory of a young person who did not deserve his terrible fate. Khaseen deserves far better than to be the face of an unfounded narrative about his friends and fellow students.

Dr. Phyllis Harrington

Superintendent,

Oceanside School District