Greenbelt school aims to keep the memory of slain teacher Madame Sylla alive

Members of the Prince George’s County, Maryland, school community say they’re still in shock, but trying to preserve the legacy of a slain teacher.

“Her compassion for youth, her willingness to assist them in and out of the classroom; these are things that won’t be forgotten,” said James Spence, the principal of the Dora Kennedy French Immersion School.

He said the Greenbelt community is coming together to keep the memory of their teacher Mariame Toure Sylla — known as Madame Sylla to the countless families she impacted — alive.

Just days ago, police informed the community that the 60-year-old French teacher, who had been missing for weeks, had been killed. Families had previously held a vigil, passed out flyers and even canvassed local neighborhoods, searching for the slightest clue of the whereabouts of their beloved missing teacher.

Madame Sylla’s body was recovered by detectives, having been decapitated and disposed of in Clinton, about 19 miles away from a local park where she would frequently walk.

“People are probably more cautious than they’ve ever been in this community,” Spence told WTOP. He added that the kind of evil that took Sylla from their normally loving community is something he’s never encountered before in the Greenbelt area.

“It was a shock to us, that what was described in the news and media happened to our dear sister,” Spence said.

Despite the brutal nature of her killing, Spence said that students, staff and families have been processing — and persevering — in her name.

But it hasn’t been easy.

In light of the particularly heinous nature of the crime, Spence said the Dora Kennedy school community has brought in grief counselors and crisis intervention teams.

“Some students have wanted to process with a counselor,” Spence said.

He said the response from the community in the aftermath of Sylla’s death is a testament to the profound impact she had on it.

“The evidence is the outpour of emotion we have seen from our students and our parents,” he said. “That only comes from someone who has poured themselves into this community, and into young people, year after year, day after day.”

The Dora Kennedy principal said while she may not be here physically, Sylla’s spirit lives on.

“Her soul and her spirit are still within Dora Kennedy French Immersion,” Spence said. “The way we honor her is: we continue to work with our students with great passion, great zeal and the high standards that she exemplified, and would want us to, quite frankly, continue to do in her physical absence.”

Spence went on to say that Sylla was a great listener, who walked in her faith and offered some of the best advice he ever received.

A funeral for Madame Sylla will be held this Friday at 1:45 p.m., at the Lanham Turkish mosque in Lanham.

A Facebook post on the Dora Kennedy PTA page states: “The entire DKFI community is invited. Your presence and support during this time are deeply appreciated.”

The PTA post goes on to say: “Please consider contributing to the GoFundMe campaign established. Your generosity, no matter the amount, will provide solace to her grieving family during these challenging times.”

A GoFundMe campaign organized by parents in the community “to assist with the expenses related to Mme. Sylla’s funeral services” has already nearly reached its $15,000 goal.

“We are grateful to see so many of our families, friends and others contributing,” Spence said.

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Matt Kaufax

If there's an off-the-beaten-path type of attraction, person, or phenomenon in the DC area that you think more people should know about, Matt is your guy. As the features reporter for WTOP, he's always on the hunt for stories that provide a unique local flavor—a slice of life if you will.

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