Opinion

Federal Way's post-tragedy breakdown | Rudi Alcott

Makeshift memorials at Pinewood Village Apartments in Federal Way, as seen on April 23, 2013. - Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror
Makeshift memorials at Pinewood Village Apartments in Federal Way, as seen on April 23, 2013.
— image credit: Andy Hobbs/Federal Way Mirror

As we move on as a community from the horrific events on April 21 that left four innocent victims and the perpetrator dead, I am reminded of the five stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

While each of us affected by this tragedy will proceed through these stages at our own paces, there are certain facets of society that must act more responsibly in times like these.

In this particular case, your city leaders were remiss in how they handled the events after this shooting in Federal Way.

Unlike the events in Boston, ours was an open and shut case as the assailant was killed in the process. We didn’t need to shut the city down, proceed through a massive manhunt and then start the aftermath processes. We advanced right to the aftermath. The police department performed an admirable, if not exemplary job. They responded on time, stayed vigilant and called a press conference to inform the public.

At this point, things started to break down. Where was Mayor Skip Priest during this initial press conference? Not only did he not speak, he wasn’t even present. While I will grant the fact that this was predominately a police-centered press conference, the mayor should have opened the meeting assuring the general public that all of us were safe, that this was an isolated event, and that there would be a follow-up meeting — and then turn it over to the police chief for the details.

Consider the events in Boston as an example. The mayor was at every press conference. In fact, he checked himself out of the hospital and waved off painkillers to be there. He led that city from the beginning to the end.

If that wasn’t enough, a few days later, The Mirror was astounded to receive a memo from the police department with an open invitation to the community to attend a remembrance meeting for the victims at City Hall.

During this meeting, Mayor Priest, Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell and Chief Brian Wilson all spoke poignantly and with deep concern to the victims’ families with their individual remarks and support. Halfway through, the meeting took an unusual turn. The memo and the handout at the door in part stated that “we would like to respectfully request at this time that any members of the audience not a resident of Pinewood Apartments or a family member of victims excuse themselves at this time.”

Huh? So let me get this straight. We, as members of this community, are invited to a public meeting, held at City Hall, but then halfway through the meeting, were ushered out because we didn’t qualify for the remainder of the meeting? Indeed, that is exactly what occurred.

For the first time, I wondered whether the mayor’s office or the police department was running this city. Imagine the outrage in Boston had the city issued a statement that said “Only the people of the blocks that were cordoned off to capture the fugitives could attend the meeting. All the rest of you need to go away.”

I can’t imagine that scenario because it didn’t and couldn’t have ever happened. Except, of course, in Federal Way.

The Boston mayor understood that the only way to heal from such an ordeal is to invite everyone into the healing process. The City of Federal Way was on the right track, right up until they asked most of the community to leave a public meeting as if this didn’t pertain to them. By doing so, the city kept the press and the public from hearing any questions and answers the residents may have asked.

In an effort to create accordance, the city created divisiveness. I, for one, am appalled by this action and want to personally apologize to all of the citizens of Federal Way for the city’s ineptitude in the handling of the community meetings.

As I enter the acceptance phase, I respectfully request the leaders of Federal Way to do the same.

Accept the fact that you mishandled this and begin to move the city in a direction that will heal the community.

Your entire community deserves this, in likely the greatest time of need that this community will ever face.

 

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