Vigil for victims of violence -- Sandy Hook murders, Patterson domestic violence death recalled

PATTERSON, La. — “There’s too many angels, too many angels.”

Words from Patterson Police Chief Patrick LaSalle expressed the sentiment of a candlelight vigil Tuesday night remembering the 26 victims of Friday’s mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut as well as Dominique Bennette, who was discovered to be a victim of domestic violence Dec. 12 in Patterson.

Mayor Rodney Grogan questioned “Why does it take a tragedy to bring a community together? I have been in office for two years trying to form a coalition within the community to work with all of you, to work with our elderly and actually bring this community together. Tonight, I challenge all of you. I have my chief of police. I have the school system out here. I have 100 Black Men. I have Ladies of Destine and all other organizations. It is not black, nor white. This is not African-American. This is not Asian. This is reality. The love that you’re showing now, why can’t it be shown every day?”

The Ladies of Destine Elite Social Club sponsored the vigil held in front of Patterson City Hall where about 100 people gathered along with numerous civic organizations.

“We had a murder last week, right here in the City of Patterson … Which one of you are next? Do you have to stay? I’m talking both men and women because women abuse men also. Stop living in a society where if I call the police department they’re gonna know who I am and so forth. If you can save a life who cares? Ladies, love yourself. Men, you keep your hands to yourself,” the mayor said.

“You see, right now, we’re all hurting. Patterson was hurting last week. Then on Friday was the tragedy with the (Connecticut elementary school) shooting … We must form a partnership that is not about I, I, I. It’s about us. It’s about the children. Not only the children, it’s about the safety of the whole community. Some people say it could be Sandy (Hook) today, and tomorrow it could be us in a few seconds,” he added.

The mayor challenged every organization, all the schools, the police department and the entire community: “We have to come together. If you’re just verbally saying ‘I’m going to Heaven,’ and you have no love in your heart, I don’t know which Heaven you’re going to,” he said.

LaSalle accepted that challenge.

“It’s a sad evening that we meet today, a sad time because I’ve failed you. I’ve been in law enforcement for 40 years. I’ve failed you. I have another angel now that will wake me up in a cold sweat. This is the third that I’ve lost to domestic violence in my career in law enforcement,” he said.

The chief said he would create a junior police officer division for the juniors and seniors in high school within Patterson city limits. “We’ll reach out if we have to and go out further,” he added.

“We’ll start putting more officers in the schools so we don’t become a tragedy as we saw in that other town. Too many young lives lost for no reason whatsoever, none whatsoever.”

“I’m deeply touched by what occurred,” LaSalle said of Bennette’s death.

“I’m also proud of the young men and women. Within 16 hours we made an apprehension of the subject that committed that crime. The Los Angeles Police Department can’t do that. We can’t help you unless you reach out to us. We can’t do anything unless, instead of you running your mouth on Facebook, you make a phone call to the chief of police. So, we’re gonna create a Facebook spot for you. Since that’s the only thing you know now, I’ll give you that too. Let’s see what happens then. You want something else? We’ll give you a website for the City of Patterson police department. You can call us anonymously. You can leave a note at the door. Tell me you need to see me. Or you can put my phone number in your phone, 985-397-2249. Call it,” he said.

“I can show you historically if daddy got arrested for beating momma, his son will do the same thing. It is a learned process. You will be what you see. Think about what you do in front of your children. Think about those statements you make. If you say it, be prepared to hear it again later in life.”

Chez Hope, he said, also “cannot help you unless you reach out.”

Over 300,000 women become victims of domestic violence every year, one of every four. “Count your neighbors,” he said. Of those, 85 percent are women, and 33 percent will be killed.

“Stats after stats, they mean nothing to us. Right now 26 families are crying. Mothers and fathers, the families, the loved ones of Dominique. All for what? Because we didn’t take the time to make a phone call?”

Cherice Picard of Chez Hope said her organization is a family violence crisis center that operates a 24-hour emergency shelter. Women come with just the clothes on their backs and stay in one of three apartments up to six weeks. Everything is provided for them and their children. With alarm systems in place and police assistance available, there has never been an incident at the Chez Hope apartments. Chez Hope also assists with option counseling and restraining orders.

Turning to the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy, Hattie Watts Assistant Principal Charles Foulcard said “School shootings are always incomprehensible … words fail to describe Friday’s heartbreaking, savage attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School. As a father, educator, teacher and administrator I can barely imagine the anguish, loss and suffering Friday in the Newtown community. Our hearts and prayers go out to every parent, child, teacher, staff member and administrator at Sandy Hook and the surrounding community. Our thanks goes out to every teacher, staff member, first responder, who cared for, comforted and protected children from harm under risk to themselves.”

“Safety at Hattie Watts is one of our top priorities,” he said. Among the precautions the school takes are having a Crisis Response Team in place for several years which adds additional safety measures annually and two drills held each year to ensure safety measures are carried out.

The school is working with the central office staff to secure a single main entrance to the school, enhanced with a camera, intercom system and a buzzed entrance system. The school contacted the Patterson Police Department to assist with securing all areas of the campus. The school will be installing an intruder lock system in all of the classrooms, Foulcard said.

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