Noe Valley Voice October 2001

St. Philip's Says Prayers for the Shami Family

By Kathy Dalle-Molle

Students at St. Philip's School are coping well following the tragic deaths of Jasmin and Jamilah Shami, two sisters who had attended the Elizabeth Street school, says Principal Stephen Farren.

Jasmin, 15, and Jamilah, 9 -- along with their parents, Anthony, 36, and Anna, 37 -- were found murdered in their St. Mary's Park home on Sunday, Sept. 9. Although news reports originally suggested that Anthony Shami murdered his family and then committed suicide, homicide officials from the San Francisco Police Department say they are investigating the case as a quadruple murder.

On Sept. 16, several of the girls' classmates, as well as teachers, parents, and staff from St. Philip's, attended a funeral mass at St. Dunstan's Church in Millbrae, where members of the Shamis' extended family live. Father Michael Healy, pastor of St. Philip's Church, was the principal celebrant at the service for the two girls and their mother.

Jasmin had graduated from St. Philip's in June 2000 and was a sophomore at Mills High School in Millbrae at the time of her death. Her younger sister was in the fourth grade at St. Philip's.

"Both Jasmin and Jamilah were smart, articulate, athletic girls," recalls Farren. "Jasmin really had a special way about her. She was very outgoing and welcoming. She was always able to make someone new to the school feel comfortable. Both girls also had a great sense of humor and were very warm individuals."

Farren says that Anna Shami was involved in parish and school activities and that both parents "were very interested in their children's education. Both parents attended parent-teacher conferences, and if we ever needed to reach either parent, they were very accessible to us."

On the morning following the tragedy, Monday, Sept. 10, Father Healy led a schoolwide prayer service in St. Philip's Church. A grief counselor from the San Francisco Archdiocese visited the school later in the week to offer counseling to Jamilah's fourth-grade classmates.

A counselor also offered guidance to Remy Everett, Jamilah's teacher, about how to help students say goodbye to their classmate. A memorial altar with a candle and two vases of flowers was set up at Jamilah's desk, and students expressed their grief by writing letters to Jamilah and drawing pictures of rainbows, butterflies, flowers, and friends playing together.

"The prayer service had a very calming effect on the students," says Farren. "I think it really helped that we came together as a community early on that Monday morning. We explained to students that what happened to Jamilah and Jasmin was a tragedy, but that we needed to celebrate their lives and that they are in a good place now, where they are happy."

Farren also notes that it was a "very unusual situation" for the students to have to cope with the grief of losing a classmate and then the following day to have to deal with the horror of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Like all public and Catholic schools in San Francisco, St. Philip's sent students home on Sept. 11, following the three airplane attacks on the East Coast.

"Everything considered, the students seem to be doing very well," says Farren.

Farren has received suggestions from members of the school community about setting up a remembrance at the school in honor of the two Shami girls, perhaps a scholarship in their name. He says he will be consulting with school board members, Father Healy, and Shami family members in the near future about various possibilities. At press time, Farren also was hoping to schedule a memorial mass for Jamilah and Jasmin to which the entire parish community would be invited.

"I think it is very important at a time like this that people come together, that there is a sense of community," says Farren. "We need to celebrate the gifts the family brought to us while they were here."