Rockford police turn tragedy into lesson
date posted: 4/6/2009
ROCKFORD, IL - On a sunny Sunday afternoon last summer, Rockford police officers Mark Honzel and Susan Bubik came across a crime scene like none other in their 16 and 17 years in law enforcement.
An 8-year-old boy, Taevius “Tay” Coleman, lay motionless against a fence line, a large gunshot wound to the side of his chest. People were gathering around, some were screaming. A pistol-grip shotgun was on the ground nearby. The officers checked the boy for a pulse. They performed CPR until an ambulance came and took the boy away. Moments later, news would come that the Haskell Year-Round Academy third-grader was dead. Officers also would learn that the accidental shooter was another 9-year-old boy, a friend of Taevius who found the gun hidden under a plastic bag near a Dumpster where the two boys were playing. It was left there by a man, police said, who had been kicked out of his apartment that morning and planned to come back for it later.
That night at home, Honzel, the father of two young daughters, sat in front of his computer trying to make sense of the tragedy. He typed in the words “gun safety education” into a search engine.
On Friday, eight months and $2,700 later, Honzel and Bubik were at Haskell Year-Round Academy in front of Taevius’ classmates presenting the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program in honor of Taevius, and to educate other children on what to do if they find a gun in their homes or outside. To their knowledge and that of community services Sgt. Marc Welsh, no such program has been presented to Rockford area children in more than a decade.
The children received worksheets and an activity book before the day of the presentation and watched a video about gun safety that taught them Eddie Eagle’s signature dance and message: “Stop. Don’t Touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.”
On Friday, they shared what they learned and got a special visit from Eddie Eagle, Bubik in the official Eddie Eagle costume.
“I liked his feathers. They were so comfortable. Like a bed,” said Jason Grimmett, a third-grader at Haskell. Grimmett, 9, said he likes doing the Eddie Eagle dance and that he’s learned a lot about guns in the past week.
“You shouldn’t touch them because they could go off,” he said.
Classmate Nyquolis Coley said he remembers the day last summer when he saw Taevius’ name in the newspaper. It made him want to cry.
“He was a good friend,” Coley said. “It made me sad.”
Coley said he was so excited to meet Eddie Eagle he almost fell over.
“It was so cool,” he said. “I can do the whole dance.”
The students’ teacher, Shawn Galvin, said he’s pleased with the way his students have responded to the lesson. Many still talk about Taevius, he said.
“Taevius was a great kid. He was a great student,” Galvin said. “They wanted to do well on their ISAT tests for Taevius because he was such a top student, and they didn’t want to let him down.
... I think it’s good to try to help the children learn from what happened and try to stop it from happening again.”
Honzel and Bubik spent the day visiting classes at Haskell Year-Round Academy. They hope to give the presentation to other schools and groups."
The program is all but paid for now. Police and fire unions, medical facilities, area churches and service clubs helped raise the $2,700 to buy the eagle costume. So far, the materials, which were supposed to cost a nominal fee, have been sent for free, Honzel said.
Staff writer Corina Curry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 815-987-1371.
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