Sad but powerful reunion for victims held 34 years after Stockton schoolyard massacre

STOCKTON – In times of trauma, a community comes together. That’s what Stockton has shown time and again.

On Tuesday, they stood united in song remembering a painful day that many shared together more than three decades ago.

“I had nightmare after nightmare. My parents told me I was screaming at night,” said Elizabeth Pha, a former student at Cleveland Elementary School.

Elizabeth Pha and Jake Sar were only 8 years old when five fellow students were shot and killed at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton on January 17, 1989. Thirty others, including teachers, were hurt. Now, 34 years to the day, they still remember what happened in vivid detail.

“I was just running, running for that door for dear life. And when I got through that door, I just seen (sic) blood stains in the hallway and the teacher was just taking us and locking us up in the classroom,” said Sar.

The community holds a memorial every year, but this is the first time Sar and Pha attended one. It was truly fitting that the community gathered at the Children’s Museum of Stockton, inspired by Janet Geng, one of the teachers wounded in the school shooting.

Now, Sar wanted to let his teacher Judy Weldon know he was alright.

“It’s like a tattoo on your heart. It doesn’t go away. It stays there and it reminds you of a certain time,” said retired teacher Judy Weldon.

Weldon, now a community activist, fights to end gun violence.

“We cannot sit by the sidelines. So it’s up to us, and here we are well into retirement and we are working hard to reduce gun violence,” she said.

Stockton Police Chief Stanley McFadden said they use data to point police where violence is likely to happen, but he said the community and events like this are key so a community can come together and protect their own.

“Little kids getting killed in school, there’s just no place in the world for that. It’s just very sad,” said Sar.

Chief McFadden said his department has worked to get hundreds of illegal guns off the streets and they’re working across jurisdictions with other local law enforcement agencies to do the same.

Marlee Ginter


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