St. Charles students seek ways to cope with grief of murdered twins
Other than Tiffany Coffland, there weren't many bright spots during Courtney Everhardus' summer job. As it turned out, working with pets was "pretty gross." If Tiffany felt the same, she never let on.
"She was smiling, laughing, a bit reserved, but not shy," Everhardus said of Tiffany. "She was always interested in learning new things and assisting our customers and employees. I didn't notice anything that would have indicated that something was wrong at home. Looking back on it, I wish I would've looked a little harder."
St. Charles police believe Tiffany and her sister, Brittany, were gunned down by their father, Randall Coffland, Friday after school. A recording of the 911 phone call Randall made during the murders indicates he also shot his wife and the twin girls' mother, Anjum Coffland, in an attempt to inflict maximum physical and emotional pain without killing her. The latest reports indicate Anjum Coffland is recovering at a hospital.
The Kane County coroner's office concluded that each of the sisters died from a single gunshot wound to the head, and Randall Coffland died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
A mix of grief and perhaps a little regret at not being able to foresee her former co-worker's fate is now fueling Everhardus' efforts to do something to help Anjum. She created an online fundraising page to help pay for Anjum's medical expenses and the funeral costs for her daughters. Everhardus lives in the same apartment building as Anjum. The goal is $35,000. Just a few hours into the campaign Monday, 38 people had donated nearly $2,000.
Everhardus, a 2016 graduate of St. Charles North High School, is one of many in the community who sought constructive ways to deal with a mixed bag of emotions stemming from a killing that surpasses any tragedy the upscale community has seen in recent memory.
Students at St. Charles East High School, where the Coffland twins were juniors, gathered as the sun rose in the school's small theater for a prayer vigil organized entirely by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes club at the school. About 50 students took turns reminiscing about the twins, saying prayers or sharing whatever flood of thoughts and emotions overtook them in the moment.
Students spent the entire day in solidarity over the memory of their fallen peers. Just about every student wore some form of purple or blue garb in honor of the twins' favorite colors.
Senior Rachel Garland and three friends spent 13 hours of their weekend cutting out nearly 2,000 blue and purple paper hearts and transforming every locker in the building into its own tribute to the twins.
Garland said she personally saw several people break into tears when they saw the hearts on the lockers. But that was a good thing for both them and her to see.
"It was a happy cry," Garland said. "In order for me to cope I feel like I need to act. I didn't know the twins very well. But the hearts felt like what we needed at the time. This whole thing has been a lot to take in, but by being able to do this we knew we were going to help other students and ourselves as well."
District 303 school board President Kathy Hewell asked for a moment of silence at Monday night's school board meeting.
The grief mixed with sentiments of "what if" and "if only" throughout the campus. School staff members had recently alerted teachers to keep an eye on the Coffland twins to identify any additional help they may need due to a problem at home.
St. Charles police responded to a domestic call at Anjum's St. Charles apartment Feb. 9. Everhardus said her boyfriend was in the building at the time and described "lots of emergency vehicles and police officers" on the scene.
"The officers assured him that it was 'nothing to worry about,'" Everhardus said. "We never saw their father (at the apartment). But you kind of piece it all together now."
School district spokesman Jim Blaney said he doesn't know the precise timing or content of the note about the Coffland sisters that went out to teachers. But such notes are not unheard of. Discussion about students and any problems they may be having outside school is common among staff, he said.
"Our teachers see these kids almost every day," Blaney said. "They know what kind of issues they have surrounding them in their lives. We have an expectation that every one of our staff members is looking out for our kids."