Dumas stays strong after tragedy
Rebuilding after a community tragedy is exactly what Dumas, a tight-knit farming community of about 5,000 people, is trying to do after a horrific mass shooting killed one and injured 26 others at a fair. the car on March 19.
The mass shooting, one of the largest in the nation, which occurred during the city’s annual Hood-Nic celebration, shocked the city, as many of the victims were children. Etched like a bad dream in the minds of many, the traumatic experience, which has captured national attention, has brought the community even closer together as they rebuild hope and restoration.
Arkansas Martin Luther King Jr. Commission Executive Director DuShun Scarbrough and Dumas Mayor Flora J. Simon partnered with the Dumas School District to host a nonviolence youth summit for the Dumas community on Tuesday to to encourage the community not to let the mass shooting define what Dumas is.
“Dumas is a great city and what happened in Dumas doesn’t say who Dumas is in the world. We want to show that Arkansas is a beautiful state and Dumas is a wonderful city,” Scarborough said.
To help promote resilience, restoration and hope, the commission tapped Hollywood actress, producer and talk show host Vivica A. Fox as the keynote speaker.
“Today is all about hope, healing and restoration,” Fox told The Pine Bluff Commercial. “We have to let our children know that we are going to be there for them.”
The Dumas High School gymnasium was packed with students and community members, some of whom were in attendance on that horrific day, including School Resource Officer J. Libbett-Reynolds of the Dumas Police Department.
“I was actually there when it started,” she said.
Reynolds said she heard gunshots as she pulled into traffic and thought they were fireworks.
“I was with my sergeant, we grabbed our ARs and ran towards the threat,” she said.
Reynolds described the chaotic scene as “lots of screaming and running” with several children being gunned down.
“I had seen that the children had been shot and so I left the scene and ended up in the hospital because the hospital security and the help for those who entered the hospital were injured. “said Reynolds, who arrived at the hospital covered in blood after rescuing a one-year-old child who was injured in the shooting.
Shae’la King, an 11and grader, was on the job and was able to see the Hood-Nic event when the shooting happened.
“I work at McDonald’s and I could hear and see everything,” she said. “I was taking an order at the time in my helmet, so I had it. I wasn’t paying attention. All of a sudden I just heard the shooting, so I look at the cameras and I just see the whole Everyone was running. The police were running. Everyone was running trying to get into McDonald’s. We couldn’t let them in.
King said they were forced to lock doors and windows. All she could do was watch people flee from the stage begging and crying to come inside for safety, which she described as “sad”.
Counseling sessions for first responders, community members and students were immediately offered. The community also rallied, but for outsiders watching, Dumas suddenly had a negative target on his back.
“The incident that happened during Hood-Nic was an event that actually happened out of disrespect for the community or for life in general,” Mayor Simon said. “As far as Dumas was concerned, it had nothing to do with the normal personalities or actions of the events that occur in Dumas.”
Simon said she wanted the community to focus on the positive aspects of the tragic events such as the community gathering and the Youth Summit on Nonviolence. The free event included breakout sessions on financial literacy, community advocacy, healthy living, anti-bullying, employment and education. Along with encouraging words, the event concluded with a candlelight vigil that lit up the gymnasium like twinkling stars in the sky.
“I care about the community. It didn’t create them and it won’t break them,” Fox said. “Things happen in life. Sometimes things are so traumatic and so unfortunate, but God got us and we’re going to move forward together.”
Scarbrough said the purpose of the commission is to show children before they reach that point of violence to talk to someone. “We wanted to take this opportunity to come to Dumas High School and talk to young people and impart knowledge and instill in them a vision to promote non-violence,” Scarbrough said.
As for the city as a whole, Simon said the tragic incident was something that could not have been avoided as it is something no one actually expected.
“Once we started to get over the shock, to get over the embarrassment, because the city was really embarrassed that something was going on here and to get over all these negative things, then we started to work positively, individually and as a group to rebuild ourselves and our respect for our own community,” Simon said.
King said she felt like Dumas was coming together to help while everyone blamed Dumas for what happened that day.
“Dumas doesn’t want to be seen as that town in which the shots rang out. Dumas is so much more than that,” Scarbrough said.