Death of boy, 8, stuns teachers, classmates at Quincy school

By Jessica Bartlett
Globe Correspondent / January 16, 2011

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Teachers and pupils at a Quincy elementary school are reeling from the death of an 8-year-old student allegedly killed by his mother Thursday.

“Friday was a very sorrowful day at Snug Harbor’’ Community School, said Quincy Superintendent Richard DeCristofaro.

Brandon Yang was a third-grade pupil at Snug Harbor, a Germantown public school, DeCristofaro said, and the death of someone so young has left more questions than answers.

Seven-year-old Annie Ruan, a second-grader at Snug Harbor, said teachers were visibly upset when they explained the events to her class.

“My teacher was crying yesterday. They said that Brandon died. Everyone was so sad and crying and crying, and we didn’t say anything,’’ Annie said as she walked with her mother yesterday near the street where Brandon lived.

Brandon’s mother, Li Rong Zhang, 39, was accused Friday of lighting a small charcoal grill in her bedroom Thursday afternoon, in an alleged attempt to kill Brandon and herself with carbon monoxide fumes.

When Zhang’s 16-year-old son came home and couldn’t get into the locked and barricaded bedroom, he called police. Brandon and his mother were found lying face-down and unconscious, and Brandon died at Quincy Medical Center. Police say they believe the older son is staying with his father, who is divorced from Zhang, and other relatives.

School officials have been unsure of how to relay such tragic news to young children. According to the superintendent, teachers at all Quincy schools were notified of the tragedy Thursday night and met with each school’s crisis team to discuss how to handle questions from pupils.

Letters were sent home to parents Friday afternoon explaining Brandon’s death. Still, at least 40 parents went to Snug Harbor school that afternoon, seeking guidance on how to handle the situation with their children.

The main thing to stress, DeCristofaro said, is that the children have a support system if they need it.

“We were talking with counselors and talking with the parents to make sure they are supportive. [We want] to make the child feel good about going home and for parents to talk with their children about this as much as they could to make their kids feel safe and supported,’’ he said.

Yesterday afternoon, children walking in the Germantown neighborhood said they were upset by the tragedy, though they didn’t completely understand it.

“Me and him were good friends,’’ said Devante Williams, who lives in the area and was a classmate of Brandon’s. “My teachers and everyone were talking about it in class yesterday. They were talking about how he died . . . [It’s] sad.’’

The school will be talking with the family to plan an event for Brandon.

Brandon, a member of the school’s “Terrific Kids’’ program, will be missed by everyone, DeCristofaro said.

“When a loss like this occurs, it resonates in the whole community,’’ he said. “Brandon’s loss will be felt for quite some time in Germantown.’’