AYER — Before convening the Nov. 2 School Committee meeting, Chairman Viola Barnes called for a moment of silence to mourn the loss of Ninah Paillard, the 16-year old Ayer High School student from Shirley whose untimely death shocked and saddened the school community as well as family and friends in both towns the previous week.
Superintendent George Frost noted the candlelight vigil held last Thursday night on the high school football field, where the flag was lowered to half-staff. He said numbers of staff and students who turned out for the event attested to a close, caring community. According to news accounts, about 300 people attended.
“Ninah Paillard was an outstanding student and athlete” with a legion of friends, Frost said, and everyone at the school took her loss to heart.
The vigil gave friends and fellow students a place to come together, to comfort each other, sharing memories and anguished tears. A group of freshman girls told a Sun reporter the girl’s death “shook them up,” even though they didn’t know her. According to the newspaper story, some wore yellow ribbons, symbolizing suicide awareness. One friend, anonymously quoted, said the girl’s death made “no sense” and that she might have been “harassed by someone” but did not “speak up.”
Frost said that night that bullying was being looked into as a factor.
At the School Committee meeting, he said that school staff, including Ayer’s leadership team and school psychologists from both Ayer schools and the merged middle school in Shirley, have been “sensitive and caring” and have done a “fabulous” job reaching out to students during a “very tough time” for them all. At least 30 staff members attended the candlelight vigil, he said. Some school events were postponed, including the annual Homecoming football game and dance.
Amid the turmoil, Ayer High School Principal Don Parker was “incredible” in his ability to speak to kids and help them understand “what is available to them,” Frost said, in terms of on-site grief counseling and other services that are always there for them.
In a previous interview, Parker told a Nashoba reporter that he believes it’s the responsibility of adults in school to reach out to kids they think might need help, even if the students don’t ask.
As things get back to normal, Parker and other administrators will be accessible and more vigilant than ever. “We will continue to be very watchful of all the other kids,” Frost said.