I held my class’s attention, but the police officer,
standing next to Principal Truss near the doorway, held mine. My
voice remained steady as I lectured my small band of ninth
graders on the power of tone, but as soon as I made eye contact,
Principal Truss stepped in.
“Mrs. Childs.” He motioned with his forefinger. “May we speak
to you for a moment?”
I caught the stern face of the officer which caused me to nod my
consent. I stepped toward the door only to turn back to see all ten of
my creative writing students focused on these men.
“Just a moment of your time,” Principal Truss said again.
My students’ eyes shifted. When they looked at me, I shrugged.
Abigail twisted around to give Dillon a quick glance, while Anya,
the principal’s daughter, stared at her father’s face.
Through his dark-rimmed glasses, Principal Truss stared back.
Then quickly he turned away, ran his hands though his flaxen hair, and
stepped back into the hallway.
Before I followed, I said to my class, “Use this time to examine
the tone in your narrative draft.” Then I left my room and stood face
to face with a morose Principal Truss and an austere officer of the law.
“Thank you.” Principal Truss spoke with caution. “This will be
I nodded while an okay slipped from my lips like a whisper.
“Mrs. Childs,” his voice quivered in a way I’d never heard before,
“this is Officer Bond.”
I nodded at the dark-haired distinguished man, who barely gave
me a smile.
Principal Truss pointed to a neighboring class, vacant during our
Junior High’s last period of the day. “He needs to speak to you.”
The officer stepped toward the empty room, then paused at the
door to wait for me.
But I glanced back toward my class.
“I have Ms. Atherton coming,” Principal Truss said. “And until
she arrives, I’ll stay with them.”
I drew in a breath, brushed my dark hair from my face, and
followed Officer Bond into the room.
After he shut the door behind us, he approached a nearby desk
and placed his hand on a box labeled Helam City Police. Then he
looked at me. “Do you know a Stella Fabrizio?”
“No.” My heart began to race. “Should I?”
“Her body was found this morning, five miles outside of town, in
“Oh dear.” My hand reached for my chest. “Did she go to our
“The high school,” Officer Bond said. “She was a senior.”
From the box, he pulled out a photo in a sealed bag. The girl had
dark hair, large brown eyes, olive skin, and was wearing a low-cut
cream tank top.
“Her parents divorced two years ago,” he said, “which is when
she and her mom moved here.”
“Just up north, near Salt Lake.”
I stared at the picture. “That’s why I didn’t have her as a student,”
I said more to myself than to him.
“I know,” he said quietly. “Right now, no one knows how she’s
connected to your class.”
I gave him a puzzled look and handed him back the photo. “My
He studied my face for a moment. Then he said, “Do you
recognize this?” From the box, he produced another sealed bag. This
one contained a black vinyl drawstring pack with the green National
Coalition for Families logo on the front. He flipped it so I could see
the back logo: Let the Children Speak: Identities and Families with the
current year 2004.
“It was found around her neck.”
The gasp slipped out before I could cover my mouth. Suddenly, I
Our school, my class, these students were the only Utah recipients
who had received these bags. This was tied in with our class’s special
project, our final essays which would be a part of a temporary exhibit
in Washington D. C. Almost a year before, I’d endured the grueling
application process to then be awarded a special invite from this
nonprofit organization, a group designated to help children and
strengthen families. Yet now, I stared at the logo and the cheap
welcoming bag which had been used to end another teenager’s life.
Officer Bond reached into the box again. “What about this?” He
produced another sealed bag with a ripped sheet of paper inside. He
handed it to me.
It only took a second for me to recognize my own words.
These journals are a place for expression, a place to write freely, and to feel safe. I
ask you to write respectfully and to write your best, since this is still a class
assignment. But your words will not be shared with others. Even I will not examine
what you write. Rather, once a month I’ll ask you to flip through your journal pages
to show me you are writing. This is how you will receive credit for the assignment.
On this sheet of paper, I even recognized the black pen mark
where I’d manually went through each copy and changed my small
typo from on to in.
Now its presence haunted me. “I purchased journals for my class,
and then I slipped a letter with a journal into each bag.”
“So we can assume these two items came from the same person?”
“I guess.” Then suddenly I understood. “Wait!” I took a step back.
“No! My students didn’t do this. Not this.” I quickly handed him back
the letter. “They weren’t involved with this.”
He turned the letter over and handed it back to me. In large
flowing cursive it read, The truth is found here. An arrow followed and
below it was a quick sketch of a heart.
I followed the arrow’s order and flipped the letter around, back to
my typed phrases where the information about my class’s journals
stared back at me.
“It can’t be,” I said. The idea was inconceivable!
From behind me, I heard footsteps. I turned to face Principal
Truss. In place of the traditional twinkle, I saw the fear in his eyes.
“We want to collect your class journals,” he said.
I looked at both these men. “I still don’t understand.”
“I’ve spoken with the Board.” Principal Truss stepped toward me.
“They’ve spoken with our attorney. Of the present options, this has
the least liability.”
“What?” I gave him a confused look.
“We need you to collect their journals.”
“But they’re confidential.” I handed the letter back to Officer
Bond. “I told my students that. I told them this was a safe place to
“I understand.” Officer Bond spoke with no emotion. “But right
now our goal is to find information.”
“I’m sorry,” I restated. “I can’t accommodate this request.”
With one hand, Principal Truss pressed his fingers into his
temples. “Well, we can’t interrogate each member of your class. If we
do parents will be here with pitchforks, screaming at the school, at the
police, at all of us on how we handle what’s next.”
“What’s next?” I felt bewildered. This was ridiculous.
“How did Stella end up with your class items?” Officer Bond
I glanced at both of them. “I don’t know!”
Principal Truss tried to speak in a soothing voice. “I’ve explored
the other options. At this point, this makes the most sense.”
“No! We ask each member of the class where their paper got
placed, where their bag is.” My voice only grew louder. “You don’t just
take their private journals.”
Principal Truss rubbed his forehead, then glanced at Officer
Bond’s box. “Anya no longer has those things.”
“What?” I resented his response. “You did this because your
daughter no longer has her bag, or the handout?”
He glanced back at me. “I did this for every child in that classroom
who didn’t feel a need to keep a cheap bag and a sheet of information.
I did this to not penalize all of them due to the concern we may have
“This is absurd! They are not your journals to take.”
“Aren’t they?” He gave me a sorrowful smile. “I can do a routine
locker check anytime I want at this school. And we do. So when you
stamped ‘Property of Helam Junior High’ on every one of those
journals, you made them school property.”
“I did it,” my voice trembled while my eyes fought to keep back
the tears, “so I could require them to use these journals for the
designated assignment, and not for their own personal use.”
“I’m sorry, Savannah,” Principal Truss said softly, “but if this is
murder, at the hands of one of our students—taking these journals will
be the least of our worries.”
I stared at the ground, thinking. Then slowly, I glanced back at
him. “You’re sure there isn’t another way?”
“I wish there was. But it’s not as simple as you want.” He turned
to face Officer Bond, who had remained silent near his box. “It’s not
as simple as all of us want.”
“Okay,” I whispered. With the back of my hand, I swiped at the
first tear before it could roll down. Then I headed toward my
Like a death march, I walked back to the front of
my class while Principal Truss and Officer Bond lingered in the
At first I said nothing. I didn’t need to, all ten students watched
I exchanged a quick farewell with Ms. Atherton, then, while
knowing I was about to be a traitor, I turned to my students and sought
to sound strong. “Class, if your journals are not out, please pull them
For the moment, my instructions were standard. Still, no one
“Quickly, students.” I clapped my hands together, knowing the
respect I’d rightfully earned would soon be gone. “Pull out your
journals. I don’t care if you’re caught up. You have four minutes left
of class to jot something down for the day.”
Like how it feels to have your personal journals taken from you, but I
refrained from speaking such thoughts.
Although my students appeared confused, they obediently
followed instructions, until all journals were open and resting on desks.
Then while the seconds ticked away, I observed the contrast. From
days past, pens had danced across the pages. Now their writing
movements were crippled and slow.
Hamilton set his pen on his desk, folded his muscular arms and
watched me. Abigail softly touched her pen to paper, but then
hesitated while her flawless complexion scowled at the pages. Tracey
drew up the sleeves of his white blazer, looked down at his dark arms,
then uncapped his green pen, only to gnaw on the pen cap.
Priscilla tugged at her long blonde curls and stared at a blank page.
Blake pressed his pen against the paper, but kept pausing to look at
me. Whereas, Dillon drew his baseball cap down while he flipped back
and forth among previous entries.
Todi watched the officer in the doorway, until he looked directly
at her. Then she flipped her head down so that her auburn ponytail fell
behind her and kept her eyes glued to some former words she’d written
in her journal.
Then there was Kyle. He’d already shut his journal, lifted his hood,
and slipped earbuds into his ears.
I glanced at the clock. One final minute remained. “Okay,” I said.
Darby shot me a quick glance. Then her pen hastily scribbled out
“Please close your journals.” My tone remained even. “And place
them on my desk.” I headed to the back of the room only to hear the
sound of silence.
When I turned back, all students stared at me. “Quickly, class.” I
snapped my fingers as if my authority could lessen the sting. “I need
your journals now.”
This time a cacophony began.
“You said . . .”
Dillon shifted as if prepared to slide his journal into his pack, while
tiny Anya stood with her journal in hand.
Sadly, I smiled at her. Of course the principal’s daughter, with no
secrets to hide, would be first.
Her writings would be filled with sweetness. No conflicts there.
Yet, although I appreciated her respect toward my betrayal, her
eagerness left me wondering if she’d truly expressed herself.
Then I caught the quick glance she shot her father. Perhaps she
was the wise one, wiser than us all. Perhaps her words had remained
guarded and her inner world kept safe.
Once she placed it on my desk, my fingers grazed across it.
“Thank you, Anya.”
Yet she did not return to her seat. Instead she tugged on one of
her golden braids. “I thought you said you’d never collect these?”
A huge pit formed in my stomach. My head hurt and my eyes
watered slightly at such a simple, well-deserved question.
I swiped at the moisture and spoke loudly against the eruption
which had commenced among the rest. “Class, I told you since the
beginning, and on repeated instances, that these are your personal
journals. But now circumstances have changed that.”
Tracey’s lean body sat up in his chair. “You can’t do that.”
“No!” Darby said. Her hazel eyes shot me a scalding look. “You
can’t tell us one thing and then change your mind.”
Abigail’s face scrunched up as if in pain. “We trusted you.”
The pit inside me was expanding, the heartache increasing, and
my tears still fought for expression. As expected, I was losing control
of this situation. So I did the only thing I could; I turned to Principal
Truss. “Can you explain?”
The bell erupted, signifying the end of class, the end of school,
the great sound of freedom. Yet no one moved.
In fact, to make matters worse, as the ringing subsided, Principal
Truss stepped into the room, followed by Officer Bond, who shut the
classroom door behind him.
Suddenly the walls felt close. The students stared at these two men
whose presence suggested there was no exit until the completion of
this required task.
Slowly, Principal Truss walked the short distance to the center of
my room. He observed these teenagers and then said, “Right now, I
cannot share a lot of details. I can only say that Mrs. Childs needs to
“How come now?” Dillon asked clearly.
“It’s not right!” Darby added. “That’s not what she told us!”
Principal Truss shifted his weight from side to side. He released a
strong sigh and I saw a twitch in his eye. He rubbed his neck, and
cleared his throat. “Well, my role is to protect my students, and today
I was approached with a difficult choice. In order to protect all of you,
Mrs. Childs and I have chosen a path that is best for the majority of
this class. Yes, I recognize this is difficult. But at this point, your
responsibility is to turn your journal over to Mrs. Childs.”
“But why?” Priscilla looked at him with wide eyes.
He stared back at her, and the agitation increased across his face,
suggesting he was at a breaking point with questions. “This is required
of each one of you. You will be unable to leave this class until you hand
over your journal. At this point, that is my final word on this action."
He motioned at my desk, resumed his position next to Officer
Bond, and let his eyes gaze over the classroom. Meanwhile, he avoided
eye contact with everyone, especially his daughter.
And while her journal was the first on my desk, Anya did not leave
the classroom. Instead she kept playing with her backpack’s zippers, as
if waiting to see if the other nine students would follow or successfully
Perhaps she wanted to reclaim hers, if she had the chance.