A letter from Tressie Armstrong, Principal, Kelly Elementary School

I met Deputy DA, Summer Stephan, in October, 2010, under challenging and frightening circumstances.  On October 8, 2010, a lone gunman jumped the fence at our elementary school and began firing a .357 Magnum into a crowd of approximately 250 children on our playground.  In the moment, and immediate moments following, responses poured in from first responders, community members, families, Red Cross, and many more.  Little did we know how much larger our family of caregivers would grow.

Enter secret service agents, FBI, detectives, jury members, judge, and prosecutor, Summer Stephan.  All of a sudden, our tiny little corner of the world grew quite large and overwhelming.  Deputy DA, Summer Stephan, quickly became the glue that held us together.  She arrived to guide us through the justice system process, make sure that all of the t’s were crossed and i’s dotted to ensure that justice would prevail, and that our community, and most importantly, our children, would be safer by not having this gunman slip through the cracks of some loop hole and end up back on the streets. 

Key job skills required for District Attorney include communication, planning and organizing, flexibility, interpersonal abilities, problem-solving, teamwork, and a deep and abiding sense of responsibility.  A district attorney is also required to be professional, have soft skills for leadership roles, and strong management skills.  Through our experience with Summer Stephan, we can guarantee that she exhibits all of these skills at the highest level.  

Theodore Roosevelt is credited with the phrase, “Walk softly and carry a big stick.”  This petite and gentle spoken woman is the epitome of that phrase.  Deputy DA Stephan began the process with us by first building a reassuring relationship with all members of the community involved, particularly the children.  She continually guided us through the steps of the jury trial, and through daily phone calls and personal presence, patiently guided us through law and process, and helped us to maintain a sense of confidence, safety, and trust.  She connected us to experts in the field to support the victims and their families, and she made herself available to us at every step of the way for questions and concerns.

However, her kindness, her compassion, and her gentle style of interaction must never be confused for weakness.  While sitting through the trial and watching the process, I watched this petite and gentle woman become a David who slew Goliath.  No stone was left unturned, no hesitation was held in tough language to call out the facts of what happened, no detail was left uncovered, and no misunderstanding of the law remained uncorrected.  

Summer Stephan’s passion for protecting the community, for seeing justice served, for eliminating any possible threat, for building a trust in the parents and staff at our school and district, and for the well-being of the children resulted in a guilty charge on all counts of attempted murder and 70 years to life in prison for Brendan O’Rourke, the gunman whose goal was to kill children and create as much devastation as possible on this small and quiet community.

It is six years later, and Kelly Elementary School has been righted to a wonderful place for children.  Safety continues to be of utmost importance, and positive relationships are a key to doing good things for children.  In the end, we are a stronger and more cohesive community because of our experience.  Very few of our families left our school and many new families who have joined us remark that they have chosen to come here because of how that difficult situation was handled by all parties involved.  We are a close, joyful, and safe place for all of our community members, and in the end, our academic scores that year actually grew by 11 points.  Summer Stephan was the safety net and glue that held us all together, guided us through an incredible challenge, and ensured that we came out confident and trusting of the judiciary system in the end.

There is no doubt, whatsoever, in my mind that Summer Stephan is not just the correct choice for District Attorney of San Diego.  She is the only choice.

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