Everett Middle School Mourns Slain Counselor
Seattle Times Snohomish County Bureau
EVERETT - Among the notes children left on the North Middle School office bulletin board in memory of their slain counselor is one from a girl named Tiffany.
"Everyone has their time. But why you? You were the sweetest, kindest counselor I every knew," she wrote to Charles Leonard, the school counselor killed last week.
Leonard's body was found Thursday in front of his waterfront home on 42nd Drive Northwest on Lake Goodwin near Stanwood. Why the 53-year-old man was killed remains a mystery.
Jan Jorgensen, spokeswoman for the Snohomish County sheriff, said today there were no suspects in the slaying. Jorgensen declined to say how Leonard died, other than by "homicidal violence," or when he was killed. Associates of Leonard say they last saw him at a retirement party Wednesday evening.
The questions trouble Gretchen Schaefer, North Middle School principal. "I'm concerned that the kids aren't going to be able to bring closure," she said. "From what we understand, there are no firm leads."
Schaefer said police had not questioned any of the teachers in connection with the killing.
To help the 830 children at the middle school deal with their grief and fear, the school is having its own service for Leonard at 4 p.m. today at Bethany Christian Church, just three blocks from the school. "We're encouraging students to come with their parents," Schaefer said.
The service, to be held after a small, family funeral today in
Marysville, follows efforts by school officials to help students - and themselves - deal with a friend's violent death.
The school's industrial-arts teacher found Leonard's body Thursday about noon. "He had appointments scheduled. When he didn't show up, we became concerned," Schaefer said.
The teacher called police and Schaefer, who informed staff at a meeting that afternoon. On Friday, teachers read a prepared statement to students, and the district sent counselors from other schools to help North's two staff counselors talk with upset students.
Many others pitched in, too, including a principal who sent his secretary to the school to help answer phones.
That same day, freshmen at Everett High School, who had spent three years at North Middle School with Leonard to help them with academics and everyday problems, were encouraged to touch base with each other and work through their emotions, said Everett High counselor Sam Callas. "It was real difficult for them," he said. "A lot of tears were shed."
Leonard had spent the last 26 years working for the district, after a stint in the U.S. Army in Germany and a job as a flight instructor at his father's business, Arlington Aviation. "He was an excellent flight instructor," said his father, Fred, who lives in Concrete, Skagit County.
By most accounts he was an excellent school counselor as well. "He connected with the youngster who needed the help, with the kid that maybe didn't follow the rules," Callas said.
Callas said Leonard allowed students to call him by his first name, gave them money when they needed it, let students who'd been kicked out of class spend that period in his office, and even had been known to help remodel a student's home.
"He was there for the student," Callas said. "He didn't feel there was anything that couldn't be resolved."
Said Kekoa Walker, 17, "He's not like most other counselors. He treated you like an adult. He got to know you. He'd make jokes and make you forget about (your problem) and then ease you back into it."
Students liked Leonard because he was different than other adults, Schaefer said. "He didn't like getting older. He was kind of a free spirit. You could hear his laugh down the hall. Kids felt they could confide in him. He was certainly cooler than their parents, at least they thought so, and in middle school that's important."
Leonard started with the district as a counselor, teacher and administrator at what was called the Youth Resource Center, an academic program for students on probation that was later discontinued. He spent 18 years there, working with 50 to 100 students a year, many of them troubled.
That's where he met Mike Sells, now the president of the Everett Education Association.
"We did fun stuff," Sells said. "We had picnics with the students. We cooked turkeys at Christmas. We had huge Halloween parties; one year I dressed as a killer bunny."
Leonard also worked at Cascade High School, where he stayed four years until a conflict with another teacher sent him to North Middle School four years ago.
Leonard liked to have fun in his private life as well, friends said, and was not averse to spending money. He loved staying up late, going to restaurants and collecting fast cars, including a purple Porsche and a vintage Ford. He liked rock music and his favorite movie, Sells said, was "This is Spinal Tap," a parody of a documentary about a hapless hard-rock band.
Leonard was estranged from his wife, Teresa, whom he met at a national teachers-union conference in New Orleans, Sells said, where she, 16 years his junior, was working as a hotel concierge.
The two were married in Seattle in 1990 and had a daughter 18 months later.
Leonard's wife filed for divorce in July 1995 after moving out several months earlier.
At the time, Leonard wrote in papers filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, "Our financial condition is disastrous."
According to Leonard's affidavit, he had borrowed up to $30,000 to make his house payments and owed $46,000 to creditors, mainly credit-card companies.
He earned about $52,000 a year as a counselor.
The Leonards took no action after initial divorce papers were filed, and Leonard's father said the couple were trying to work it out. Last month, the court was going to dismiss the case but Leonard asked that the file be kept open.
Teresa Leonard could not be reached for comment.
While Leonard could get students to open up, he was circumspect about his own troubles, Sells said, rarely discussing his family or other personal matters.
"I had heard he had sort of a street-kid life himself and so understood it. He could really get to the core of what a kid was thinking."
One of his favorite lines, Sells said, if a student was afraid to try something new, was "What are they going to do? Take away your birthday?"
"It sounds like they took Chuck's birthday away, whoever it was," Sells said.
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