DRAPER — Galey Colosimo could barely fathom the tragedy that stole two members of the Skaggs Catholic Center community and left a third fighting for her life, but he knew what they needed to do, even if pandemic precautions made it more difficult.
After learning Tuesday evening that Diana Hawatmeh, a substitute teacher and mother of three students, and her 12-year-old son Joseph “Jojo” Hawatmeh, were two of four people killed in a horrific shooting incident in Henderson, Nevada, Colosimo, principal of Juan Diego Catholic High School, gathered the school community together to pray the rosary in the Grotto of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a courtyard area in the center of the community’s three schools and Catholic church Wednesday night in Draper.
“I had to read the story a couple of times,” Colosimo said of the news report detailing the shooting that happened about 11 a.m. Tuesday outside an apartment building in Henderson. “It was just like a punch in the gut; it was just so devastating.”
According to Henderson police, residents called for help after hearing gunshots. Officers arrived to find Diana Hawatmeh, another woman and Hawatmeh’s 16-year-old daughter, Yasmeen, shot.
Officers located the man they believe shot the women and Yasmeen in a nearby vehicle, with Jojo inside as a hostage, according to a news release from Henderson police.
“As officers attempted a de-escalation dialogue with the suspect, the suspect held his firearm to the juvenile’s head, resulting in an officer involved shooting,” police said in a statement. “Officers extricated the juvenile from the vehicle and immediately began life saving measures, however, he succumbed to his injuries at the scene, along with the suspect.”
Hawatmeh and the other woman also died before they could be transported to a hospital. Yasmeen underwent surgery Tuesday night and is in serious condition in Nevada Hospital, according to Colosimo.
Father Stephen Tilley, Pastor of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church, prayed the rosary with more about 200 students, parents and staff, and called the family “gifts to our community.”
“This is a tragedy of untold proportions, and as a community you’re never really prepared to deal with this situation,” Colosimo said before the final prayer Wednesday night. “But I think what we know intuitively and instinctively as basic to our faith is that the first thing we do is pray.”
Colosimo thanked all who came to pray Wednesday, and urged them to continue praying in the days to come as the community, especially the students, tries to heal.
“We will definitely be prepared to handle whatever will befall us. But we know we’ll go forward as a community, we’ll go forward together and we’ll do it in prayer, in the name of God,” he said.
Colosimo said Hawatmeh had many roles in the school community, from substitute teacher to parent volunteer to staff Zumba instructor.
“She was a faith-filled woman, very much a family-oriented mother and wife,” he said. “Very vivacious, very fun loving and lots of energy, a beautiful woman.”
Felicia Frakes, who has worked on the campus for 19 years and is now the secretary for Saint John The Baptist Middle School, knew the family well. She said Hawatmeh “was vibrant and calm at the same time. There was a presence about her, and she had a big, beautiful smile. She was so warm and giving, and just the kindest person.”
Hawatmeh found a number of ways to support the staff of the school and church community.
“She would volunteer in our classes,” said Frakes. “She was just a huge part of our community. She was so giving anytime we needed anything. She would head service projects. She was amazing.”
She said 12-year-old Jojo was outgoing, smart and kind.
“Jojo liked theater, he was in plays, and he was awesome,” she said. “He was just so fun.”
Frakes said Yasmeen, a junior at Juan Diego, was quiet with her mother’s smile.
“She sang in the choir,” she said. “She played volleyball, and was just a soft-spoken, sweet, sweet girl.”
Colosimo said because of COVID-19, families had the option of attending school in person or online, and Jojo had been attending school online. He said they took precautions when planning Wednesday night’s prayer service, but they never considered not gathering as a community to pray and support each other.
“What’s really, really important in times of distress like this is that we come together as a community,” Colosimo said. “And that’s the exact opposite thing we’re supposed to do is come together as a community. So you’re kind of caught between a rock and a hard place.”
They opted to hold the prayer outside at the grotto, which he said has been a gathering place for the community in times of challenge and grief.
“We fall back on our faith,” Colosimo said about how the community will help students and faculty navigate their grief. “What you saw here tonight was a manifestation of that. We are a faith community. ... We think we’re together here for academic reasons, but ultimately what we’re here for is faith reasons.”
He said they will continue to offer support to the Hawatmeh family, as well as the students who attended school with them.
“We just really feel like our, especially our young babies, are really, really going to hurt,” he said. “It’s going to be really, really important that we’re there as a constant community of support. ... It’s important that we continue to pray for the community, and of course, the family.”