There was a moment of silence at Highwood Hills Elementary in St. Paul on Wednesday morning, honoring the 19 children and two adults who died during a shooting at an elementary school on Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas.
Later that afternoon, the hallways overflowed with joyous yells and "Skol" chants.
Fourteen Vikings players and seven coaches, including head coach Kevin O'Connell, paired with Thomson Reuters staffers to sponsor a Scholastic Book Fair. Coaches and players joined students as they picked out three books apiece to take home from Highwood Hills, which has an enrollment of more than 200 students. Some read their books in classrooms with players like right tackle Brian O'Neill, fullback C.J. Ham, linebacker Eric Kendricks and nose tackle Harrison Phillips.
The arrival of books and Vikings players and coaches were welcomed by school staffers and parents eager to create a positive environment for students a day after the deadliest elementary school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012. As the Vikings bus pulled up, students and staffers rolled out the purple carpet and formed a cheering section complete with overhead "Skol" claps and chants.
"It means the world to us," said Dr. Fatima Lawson, principal of Highwood Hills. "A student told me, I've wanted to meet the Vikings since I was 4 years old. You could see the light in his face and everything. We make an impact in what we do every day, but the bigger impact is what the community does for the students."
The Vikings also held a similar event at Barack and Michelle Obama Elementary in St. Paul, with General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah and other coaches. The events were planned well before the tragedy in Texas, but it added gravity to the Vikings' presence.
"Obviously everyone's hearts are heavy from what happened [Tuesday] in Texas," Kendricks said. "Everybody was talking about it on the bus coming in. It made it that much more important for us to be here.
"The youth is the future; it's what's really important. You get a sense of that as soon as you walk in the door. We're all kids at heart. We need to embrace it more often. We need to laugh a little bit more and embrace each other more and just love."
Inside linebackers coach Greg Manusky, a former Vikings linebacker from 1991-1993, kicked off the event at HIghwood Hills by reading to a large group of students in the school gym where bookshelves were set up.
At the end, a group of students sang happy birthday to O'Connell, a father of three who turned 37 on Wednesday.
"A lot of emotions for some of us, not only that have kids but have parents that were teachers," O'Connell said. "Thinking about the recent events, it hit me extra special in a way [Wednesday] to be able to be a positive for some of these kids that may or may not know what has gone on and transpired around our country that has happened way too much. But to know this is a safe place, and when visitors come in to have a positive event like this."
Players talked about the importance of letting students know they were once in their shoes, whether they succeed or struggle in school. Lawson, the principal, said many students say they want to be an athlete when they grow up. O'Neill said he tried to impart that even an athletic career requires taking education seriously, but added children need to feel safe.
"Kids need to be able to go to school and go home, and go to school every day and feel good about being there," he said. "It's really important and obviously our thoughts and prayers are with everybody affected by the shooting in Texas.
"But the main thing for us is supporting the people who support us and giving them a reason to feel good about going to school, because lately there's been too many reasons not to."