Schools rally in community devastated by killing spree

11th June 2010 at 01:00
Pupils and staff offered counselling in wake of Cumbria shootings

All schools in the part of Cumbria affected by last week's mass shootings are being offered specialist support to help pupils and staff deal with the aftermath of the killings.

The news comes as it emerged that the wife of one of Derrick Bird's victims, 31-year-old Garry Purdham, who was shot dead while trimming hedges on his father's farm, was a teacher at West Lakes Academy in Egremont.

Mr Purdham and his wife, Ros, who teaches PE, have two sons, aged eight and two.

Taxi driver Bird killed 12 people in and around the town of Whitehaven during the three-hour rampage, which also left 11 people injured. He later killed himself.

Helen Smith, Cumbria County Council's head of children's services for the west of the county, said educational physcologists and counsellors were now working with the schools in the area caught up in Bird's killing spree.

Around 20 schools are believed to have been most affected and Mrs Smith said: "We have school improvement officers linked to every school to get feedback on what issues are emerging. If we need to continue with the physcologists and counsellors we will do that."

West Lakes principal Vanessa Ray said the academy's 80 staff held a minute's silence on the first day back after half-term, followed by a minute's silence by pupils.

She added: "All of us have been touched in some way by this tragedy. The council have been very helpful and responsive."

Mrs Ray said the academy's 1,150 students were proving "resilient", but admitted: "Staff have been devastated, particularly by what's happened with Ros. The staff are trying to understand why all this has happened.

"Children are rather resilient, but some of them have witnessed awful things. We draw children from that whole catchment area (where the killings took place)."

A spokeswoman for Whitehaven School, in the town where Bird killed fellow cab driver Darren Rewcastle, confirmed that two counsellors were on site to help out staff and pupils.

Richard Rose Central Academy in Carlisle said it would provide help to any pupils or staff affected by the shootings.

Carlisle is outside the area where Bird went on the rampage, but Mike Gibbons, chief executive of the Richard Rose Federation, which runs the academy, said: "We are desperately upset by what's happened. We will be very senstitve to any student or family affected by it."

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