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Budget cuts often hurt families with children first

The wails of grieving children filtered through the hallways and classrooms at Leila Davis Elementary School in Clearwater on a May morning in 1986. Two students, Melvin Hobbs Jr. and Adrian Bell, had drowned the previous afternoon while swimming in Tampa Bay. Leila Davis students, not accustomed to facing the deaths of children their own age, were taking it hard.

There was plenty of professional help there for the students that day: school psychologists, guidance counselors, district administrators who had served in previous crises, and teachers who had been advised how to help the students vent their emotions.

But the person many of the students gravitated to on that dark morning wasn't a school official at all. He was a Clearwater police officer, Officer Friendly Fred Casale. He sat on the floor in a hallway with children in his lap, children in his arms, children hanging on his back. Other crying children would walk past and collapse into the group, until it looked like a small mountain in the middle of the hall.

Casale said wise and warm things to the children, then led them back to classrooms. It was apparent the bond between the officer and the children was strong, and equally clear that children who were hurting that day had benefitted from having him there to lean on.