Schools are a crossroads, where a community is connected through its children.
Sometimes, something bad happens in the neighborhood, and tendrils of violence snake their way into the school. Now, violence that started in a bathroom at Brooklyn Park Middle School has followed a student home.
Instead of ending with dismissal on May 19, an ordinary fight between two boys metastasized and resulted in the death of Christopher Wright, who was killed while protecting his son from five students and adults who showed up outside their townhouse.
“Their father was outside already, he was trimming his rose bush. He yelled up, ‘Hey, your friends are here,’” said Tracy Karopchinsky, Wright’s fiancée and the boy’s mother. “My oldest boy came down and said they’re not friends anymore. Chris went out and said he’s not coming out, and they said, ‘Well then you’re going to have to fight.’”
How did schools become a battleground? Because we’re all at war. We hate anyone who slights us; anyone who disagrees in the slightest; anyone in our way.
So of course that hate is overwhelming the place where we expect our kids to be safe, and follows us right back into our homes.
“First, we are seeing young people less capable of controlling their emotions,” said Bob Mosier, the longtime spokesperson for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. “And second, we are seeing a community that needs to be more a part of the solution than the problem.”
Police say that on May 19 at 5 p.m., officers were called to the Wright-Karopchinsky home on the quiet, one-way street in Brooklyn Park where they moved in August. It’s a place of neat brick townhouses ascending a small rise, many of them built as the World War II boom in Baltimore spilled out into the suburbs.
Their house sits near the border between the city and Anne Arundel County, an imaginary line where crime flows back and forth. On the doorstep, there are the kinds of toys you’d find outside any home with a family of boys. The tiny front yard is neat and decorated with Wright’s rose bush.
“He was a great dad,” Karopchinsky said. “He loved our kids. He loved to work in the yard.”
The couple has three sons, the oldest hers from a previous relationship. They met when he was a cook and she was a waitress. Now she’s a bartender at Amicci’s of Little Italy, and he was a stay-at-home dad.
“We met when my oldest son was a year old,” she said. “And it was kind of an ongoing joke. He was in love with [him] first.”
When the officers got to the house, they found Wright being treated by Anne Arundel County Fire Department paramedics. He was taken to a hospital with a blunt-force trauma injury to the head and died Saturday — police lingo that sanitizes a brutal truth. Wright was beaten to death outside his home.
What could happen in a middle school bathroom that could kick over a deadly row of consequences?
“There was nothing about that fight that indicated it would result in something like this,” Mosier said.
Karopchinsky said her middle son was the one in the fight. She’s seen the video shot by classmates — “Kids, that’s all they do, they have the videos out” — and recognized the other boy as someone counted as a friend just a week ago.
Another fight followed after school, she said. But this time, multiple kids were involved and her son had the sense to come home. That’s when three kids and two adults drove up to their house.
“Adults love this,” Karopchinsky said. “Adults brought them here in a vehicle. Society doesn’t have good leadership models for a lot of these kids.”
Homicide detectives are still interviewing witnesses and declined to discuss what happened in front of the Wright-Karopchinsky home. The family has turned over home security camera footage.
This isn’t the only sign that things are going wrong.
Monday, school officials said a young girl at Chesapeake Bay Middle School in Pasadena pulled a Taser from her backpack after teachers broke up a fight. Last month, a teacher at Seven Oaks Elementary School in Odenton was charged after police said she brought a gun to work and left it in her car.
And right now, a 20-year-old man is patrolling his neighborhood in Severn with a loaded assault-style rifle. Just two years after graduation from Old Mill High, he told me it was a public protest about gun rights, but it seems more about creating fear.
“You see it everywhere,” Karopchinsky said. “I work in the city, and it’s not just the city. It’s not just Baltimore and it’s not just our community. It’s the nation.
“Are we just letting kids do anything? I don’t understand it. Something has to be done.”
Fighting and physical attacks on students or teachers were the leading cause of expulsion or out-of-school suspension in Maryland schools during the 2021-22 school year, the latest year of data available from the Maryland State Department of Education shows. Those were the causes given for more than half of the 35,092 students removed from schools last year.
How does that explain the rest of us? How do you keep hate in the community from spilling into the classroom, or from the boy’s bathroom to a street in Brooklyn Park?
“That’s why SROs are in the schools,” said Capt. Michael Ashburn, head of the Anne Arundel County Police school resource officer detail. “We’re trying to get ahead of that. But we can’t prevent everything. We do our best to provide a role model, and hope [students] take it back into the community.”
Educators are trying, too.
Earlier this year, schools Superintendent Mark Bedell introduced the “BePresent” campaign in response to rising numbers of violent incidents and weapons offenses. He called for families, community members, business leaders and school alumni to have a greater presence in schools in hopes of making them safer.
In a letter sent to families Thursday, Brooklyn Park Middle School Principal Beth Shakan explained what she could about the fight in the bathroom and urged anyone in need of support to call the county mental health warmline or the school safety hotline.
“This awful incident is a stark reminder of the responsibility all adults in our community — and in every community — have to set a proper example for children,” she wrote. “Violence is never the answer, and in this case, it has taken the life of a caring, loving father.”
Schools can’t fix all our problems by themselves, and neither can police.
Karopchinsky said her middle son, the one in the fight, is feeling responsible for the death of his father. Schools have been supportive and have offered counseling services. She’s already talking with administrators at the high school where he will go next school year.
But she also wants something to change in all of us.
“Monday I woke up, and I promised Chris I was going to fight for him and do anything in our power to protect our kids,” she said.
On Facebook, Wright and Karopchinsky liked to share photos of their lives together. There are pictures of them and of their family.
In a final post on May 5, Wright posted an illustration that seems to convey his optimism. There’s a bearded avatar, meant to be him, reclining on a frozen pop afloat on turquoise water.
The words, while not terribly original, are now tragically prophetic.
“No matter how good or bad your life is, wake up each day and be thankful you still have one.”
As you think about Wright and what just happened, and how toxic we’ve become, maybe remember that, too.
“Jus a thought.”
A community vigil will be held at 8:30 p.m. Friday at 310 10th Ave. in Brooklyn Park.