After shooting, Forest High School now has room of refuge for students

By Vanessa Araiza - Reporter

OCALA, Fla. - Forest High School has had a tough few months after a former student walked on campus and fired a gun.

On April 19, officials said Sky Bouche, now 20, hid a gun in a guitar case and shot a 17-year-old student in the ankle at the high school. Bouche surrendered to a teacher and was taken into custody minutes after the gunshot by the school resource officer.

Bouche is charged with possession of a short-barreled shotgun, interference in school function, armed trespassing on school property, possession of a firearm on school property, carrying a concealed firearm, culpable negligence and aggravated assault with a firearm. He entered a plea of not guilty in May.

Students will begin a new school year Monday, and there's one change they'll notice. The classroom where the student was shot and injured has been transformed. 

An L-shaped couch and fluffy blue rug now sit in the middle of the classroom. In the corner, there's a coffee bar and inspirational quotes along the walls. The room is no longer labeled, "The Room" where the shooting happened; now, big letters boast of "The Rock."

It was a dream created by Rondo Fernandez and his wife. 

"Just seeing the amount of despair out there and the amount of rural poverty, it has always been on my mind to try to meet the needs of the students," Fernandez said. 

Fernandez, who grew up in rural and poverty-stricken Marion County, said he understands the toll it can take on a student who has nothing to go home to.

"We have some kids, man, they go home to hell. There's no better way to say it. They go home and they live in hell. And so they come in here and they get refuge. They get loved on and they know that when they go home and what they're doing right now is not normal and we try to tell them, just hang on, that it's going to get better," Fernandez said.

Fernandez's concept first came to fruition at Lake Weir High School two years ago. The idea was to turn a room into a safe space that offers not just daily essentials for kids in need, but emotional support. 

Fernandez said had a Rock room been at Forest High School before the shooting, it wouldn't have happened.

The suspect told deputies he felt ignored and wanted to go to jail after his arrest, according to arrest reports.

Students had a chance to get a sneak peek at the room Friday before school started. 

"I didn't feel any sadness or anxiety or anything. It's just a very hopeful room and there's a lot of positivity in here," Allison Williams, a Forest High School senior said. 

Alyce Alexander, an incoming junior, feels it's a new beginning for returning students. 

"I think it's going to heal students. I think it's going to help students so much. They can come here when they're in need. When they're in pain. It's going to help so much with health," Alexander said.

Fernandez's goal is to create a Rock room for every Marion County school. But, it doesn't come cheap. 

The room makeover at Forest High School cost about $5,000. It's funded by the generosity of the community and local businesses.

Anyone who would like to learn more about the mission or help can click here.

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