While Anna Palmer's family was at her viewing Wednesday, parents and teachers were at her former school implementing a program that may save another child's life.
An assailant stabbed and killed Anna Sept. 10 on the front porch of her home, across the street from Whittier Elementary. She was a fifth-grader and had attended the school since kindergarten."It's been devastating," principal Patti O'Keefe said. "We knew it had to be one of our students after the first reports on Thursday because of the address."
The stabbing has school administrators and law enforcement officers thinking seriously about safety. In a meeting in the school's lunch room Wednesday, police announced that parents and other adults will supervise the students as they walk to school and home starting Monday. About 20 volunteered for the Operation Safe Passage program Wednesday.
Since the brutal stabbing, many parents have been afraid to let their students walk to school. As many as 20 teachers watch the kids before and after school and during recess, O'Keefe said. The slaying has had a huge impact on the area.
"(The incident) hasn't really hit my kid, but it's hit me," said Kyle Rockwell, whose 8-year-old attends Whitter.
Rockwell, who lives less than a block from the school, says the area has changed since the homicide. She doesn't see children playing outside alone any more. When kids are out, they have adult supervision.
Now the school will become the first in Salt Lake City to implement Operation Safe Passage. The Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office created the program in February in response to a string of abductions. The program has been successful in the 12 schools where the sheriff's office has implemented it.
Deputy Jodie Sampson, who created the program, suggested it to Whittier when she saw the traffic jam of parents dropping kids off on 300 East. Many parents don't let the students walk any more, O'Keefe said.
School administrators have been busy dealing with concerned parents and frightened students since the stabbing. Teachers have had discussion groups about it in their classrooms. Talking about it was the best way to make the kids feel safe and to clear up rumors, O'Keefe said.
Sampson didn't know whether the program would have saved Anna, but said it will protect kids from kidnappers and bullies.
The program will hopefully put parents at ease when their kids walk to school. Police officers will do a lot more to relieve fears when they arrest the assailant, O'Keefe said.
The Salt Lake Police Department has assigned more officers to patrol the neighborhood, Sgt. Kyle Jones said. The homicide unit is still looking for leads in the case.
"We have a couple people we're looking at, but the investigation is still in preliminary stages," Jones said.
Recent media reports have surfaced suggesting Anna was sexually assaulted during the attack and that the attack may have occurred somewhere other than the porch where she was found.
Both are inaccurate, Jones said Thursday. But the medical examiner and the Child Protection Team at Primary Children's Medical Center have yet to complete their investigation into whether a sexual assault occurred.
"We were totally mystified (by published reports)," Jones said. "I don't know where (they) got that information, but it did not come from the detectives, it did not come the medical examiner, it did not come from an authoritative source."
Jones contacted detectives working the case as well as the medical examiner's office. Both said - contrary to published media reports - there were no bruises on Anna's chest and no tearing of the labia.
There were bruises on her neck and collar bone that occurred during the stabbing, Jones said. And there was "vegetable matter" or leaves and grass in her hair.
Other media reports suggested the presence of dried leaves and grass in Anna's hair indicated "the sexual attack may have taken place somewhere other than the porch" where Anna was found.
But, Jones said, "just because you've got leaves in her hair, how can you come up with a conclusion like that? Detectives on the case searched the yard, the alley and the house. And our indication is that the entire assault took place on the porch. . . . There was vegetable matter all around and on the porch. It's easy to see how, with all the vegetable matter, some would get tangled in her hair."