Reporter Noelle Crombie spent a year at an alternative high school in Gresham, Oregon, documenting the impact of skyrocketing gun violence on the students, teachers, and support staff. The result is a four-part series, of which this article, about the shooting death of Dante McFallo — one of eight male students of color who have died in the last two and a half years — is the first entry:
So many deaths in such a short time infused teachers and staff with a sense of desperation to protect the young people who come through the door each day. As the Portland area records another year of unprecedented gun deaths, the race to keep students in school and away from harm took on new urgency even as violence approached the school itself.
The campus serves students from communities east of Interstate 205, an area with among the highest concentrations of poverty in Oregon and where in some neighborhoods, residents on average die five to 10 years sooner than the rest of Multnomah County.
Powerful forces buffet many of the school’s families. Decades of racist planning scattered Portland’s small Black population. Rising housing costs put home ownership out of reach for many. Limited economic opportunities make it difficult to ascend to the middle class.
Pandemic-induced declines in enrollment also exacted a heavy toll, plunging the student body from a high of 150 before the COVID-19 outbreak to about 90 this year. Some days, only a few dozen show up.
For students, Rosemary Anderson High School represents stability and safety, a respite from dangerous streets and chaotic home lives, its teachers and staff often doubling as surrogate parents.
This was especially true for Dante.
In the end, the school and its teachers could not keep him safe.