Local community members in the New River Valley are petitioning for an independent investigation into the Montgomery County Public Schools’ actions preceding the recent murder-suicide that resulted in the deaths of two Blacksburg High School students.
Dr. Wendy Eckenrod has started a petition that currently has almost 1,200 signatures from community members. The petition, established on www.nextdoor.com, is calling for an independent investigation into how Montgomery County Public Schools’ employees responded to domestic violence issues that had been occurring between the two students and had been reported prior to their tragic murder-suicide. The bodies of two Blacksburg High School students were discovered on Nov. 7, 2023, a teacher workday for Montgomery County Public Schools, in a Blacksburg parking garage.
Eckenrod is a professional counselor and Radford University professor, working in the School of Teaching Education and Leadership.
“I teach mostly human development; student mental health, suicide, they are going to be educators, so I teach them all this stuff…suicide is #2 killer for teens and the #3 is homicide,” Eckenrod said.
Eckenrod is also the parent of a Blacksburg High School student who was friends with the victim, Serenity Hawley. Hawley was 17 years old and days away from her 18th birthday when she was found deceased in a parking garage along with another deceased BHS student, Croney Monk. Identities of the juveniles were released by Hawley’s family. According to reports, Hawley’s mother Heather Waldron, had just learned of an incident from the school involving Hawley’s ex-boyfriend Monk one month prior to the death of her daughter. A no-contact order had been issued by the school for Monk and Hawley.
According to Eckenrod, her son and friends had reported concerning behavior to BHS administration they had witnessed by Monk towards Hawley. Eckenrod says that the model for Virginia’s threat assessment has steps that should have been followed but were not. She has started a petition to present to the MCPS Board requesting an independent investigation into the events leading up to the death of the two BHS students and how procedures, she feels, were not followed.
Eckenrod has also spoken with MCPS Superintendent Dr. Bernard Bragen.
“Dr. Bragen was so kind and a decent human being when I met with him. I don’t want that to get lost in this. The petition is not to blame the school counselors and teachers. The mechanism that was supposed to be in place was not followed. I know it wasn’t followed, because my son went to administration and expressed his concerns, but his concerns were not met,” Eckenrod said.
Multiple parents also went to the school over concerns, so this was not just a one-time fear, Eckenrod also said. She went on to explain that Hawley had moved to Florida with family for about a year but missed friends and returned to Blacksburg High School. She then moved in with the now principal of Blacksburg High School, Mr. Stuart, and his family.
According to reports from Hawley’s family in a WSLS news report, Hawley was very active in school, worked at a local pizzeria called Your Pie, and had just been accepted to Virginia Tech. The family also revealed that Monk had shot their daughter in the chest before turning the gun on himself.
“My goal is not to humiliate or shame people publicly. I just want the actions of the school to be investigated,” Eckenrod said. “She was so full of life, I mean vivacious. You walked into Your Pie…that whole group was tight. She flashed the most beautiful smile.”
Eckenrod also said Monk needed serious help and that all the signs of intimate domestic violence were there.
“I know it is easy to vilify him, and Serenity has been in my home and seen her in Your Pie where she worked,” Eckenrod said. “She was at my home and Croney was outside my home stalking her.”
The focus of the petition and request for an independent investigation is to improve response procedures for domestic violence between intimate teen partners.
“The other thing that bothers me is that there is minimal, I mean minimal information related to how to make a report or express a concern,” Eckenrod said. “The only thing I found was in the Student Conduct Manual. It is a small section for students and parents to call a hotline. For me, that is buried in a document. That is the only thing I can find.”
The MCPS Student Conduct manual can be found online at www.mcps.org.
Additionally, Eckenrod referred to the Michigan Oxford Independent Report concerning the necessity of clear communication procedures for reporting and initiating a threat assessment investigation. The report is in response to a Nov. 30, 2021, student-involved shooting that led to the deaths of four high school teens, with six more students and one teacher injured.
The report published on www.cbsnews.com revealed the shooter “was not identified as a threat because individuals at Oxford High School failed to recognize on Nov. 30, 2021, that the shooter’s conduct, statements, and drawings suggested that he might cause physical harm at the school.”
“It breaks my heart that the administration didn’t seem to have more awareness about intimate partner violence. She had a no-contact order. All the signs were there,” Eckenrod said. “I’ve been a school counselor and I’ve been in the position where you recognize the red flags and look for the resources, especially for the parents. I’ve been to funerals of my students…and I never want to attend another funeral of a student who has committed suicide.”
Eckenrod plans to present the petition to the Montgomery County School Board meeting during the public address session.