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Outpouring of support for Franklin Regional comes from near, far

A support group 11,000 strong

When Franklin Regional students returned to classes on Wednesday, there was a large, tangible reminder of community support greeting them along Old William Penn Highway.

A 4-by-28-foot banner, signed by more than 11,000 community members and alumni offered students support and a reminder that the Franklin Regional community is a vast and strong one. Alumna Melissa Julius, 35, of Murrysville, organized the banner signing last weekend.

“Moving back into the district and being an alumni, it hits you twice as hard,” said Julius, a 1997 alum. “That bond and how much that affects you makes you want to do something deeper as an alumni.”

At the request of alumni as far away as Hawaii and Germany, she “ghost wrote” 1,367 signatures on the banner. Julius said the location of the banner was particularly important to organizers.

“As a community, we wanted that entrance because when the teachers, the staff and students go back to school, we want them to be greeted with love and support,” Julius said. “The banner is to represent that we are thinking of you, we are standing by your side. We are with you.

“Even though we're not there in that moment, we are all there in spirit.”

Julius said the banner was a community production, as thousands of supporters flocked to the Village of Murrysville during the weekend in space donated by the Ferri family to sign the banner, produced by Palmer Products.

Volunteers Michelle McFall, Nicole Nicole Pauley, Mala Mason, Dana Smith, Bryan Kardel and Jack and Pat Damarotski worked banner-signing tables and T-shirt sales during the weekend, Julius said.

— Daveen Rae Kurutz

By Daveen Rae Kurutz
Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The idea of “FR Strong” has taken on a new meaning in the wake of last week's tragedy at Franklin Regional High School.

Since April 9, wishes of support have flowed into Franklin Regional offices from across the community and the country.

“It's humbling to see how many districts have shown support and sent us things,” Assistant Superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac said. “It's quite inspirational.”

Even the word “community” has a broader meaning now, as schools from as far as Ohio and students from across the country have reached out to the district. Reljac said officials received a letter Monday from a student who attends Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., where one student was fatally shot in December. The letter offered perspective and support to Franklin Regional students.

“It means the world to us to know that we are not only part of the FR family, but also a bigger family and to know that so many people have it in their heart to think of us,” Reljac said. “It is humbling and heartwarming that there are lots of people close by and across the country who are there for us.”

Community support is evident throughout the streets of the communities as signs and blue-and-gold ribbons adorn yards and businesses. In the hallways at the high school hang banners from districts and FR alumni, reminding students that they are not alone.

At Penn-Trafford High School, students set aside their usual rivalry with Franklin Regional to rally around the stabbing victims by wearing blue and gold on April 11. During lunch, students signed a banner printed by Matt Mastroianni, the owner of Mastro Signs and Printing in Trafford, that they sent over to Franklin Regional.

On Monday, P-T students were taking orders for a FR-themed T-shirt as a fundraiser.

At Gateway High School, officials hung a banner showing support along its fence facing Route 48 in Monroeville.

Other districts, including Fox Chapel, Hampton and Norwin collected student signatures on homemade banners that have been sent to the district, Reljac said.

The Franklin Regional Class of 1983, now scattered across the country, joined together to print its own support banner. It's a permanent gift from the class to offer a strong message of support to the current school community, said alumnus Bill Rehkopf of Murrysville.

“Everybody wants to be able to help in a situation like this,” Rehkopf said.

“It's a tangible plan for us after seeing a place that seemed innocent to us when we were going there being dragged into the national spotlight for something like this.”

Rehkopf also helped organize Tuesday's “Send Them Back with Love” rally at Murrysville Community Park.

The event invited students, alumni and community members to join together on the eve of the return to a “normal” schedule.

Community support is invaluable to the district.

“I think that we've experienced something that none of us want anyone to experience,” Reljac said.

“It is necessary for us to support each other, but when you feel support and caring from other places and other school districts, businesses and the community, it really helps you to get through the difficult times to help our students and staff members.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627.



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