"She was a spunky kid and that can be disadvantageous if you're not alert to the harsh potential consequences," he said. "It's great to have confidence, but if it prevents you from being alert and knowing there are things that can happen to you, that's a problem.
"We can do a better job of instilling that caution without making our children panicky or distrustful of everyone."
Astley said he has tremendous sympathy for the Fujita family, too. In the minutes after Nate was sentenced to life in prison, Astley crossed the courtroom aisle and shared a long embrace with the defendant's parents.
Learning from tragedy
Lauren's father doesn't claim to understand what led Nate to kill his daughter. But he wants to ensure that other teens have ways to deal with grief.
Astley, Dunne and Lauren's family friends launched the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to educating the public on healthy relationships and dating violence through a variety of programs and legislative action.
In May, Astley and Dunne testified at a Massachusetts House hearing in favor of bills that would mandate sexual education and violence prevention programs in Massachusetts schools.
The fund paid for several productions of "The Yellow Dress" a one-woman play about dating violence, including a performance at Lincoln-Sudbury as part of the MVP assembly.
Before its own presentation in April, Lincoln-Sudbury's MVP team consulted with Astley about dating violence and bystander prevention. They studied news coverage of Nate's trial, looking for subtle warning signs.
They drew upon the e-mail he wrote to Lauren, saying, "I truly think there's a part of you that still loves me, you just have to let me find it." They talked about a graduation party in June, after the breakup, where the couple saw each other, how Nate followed Lauren and became belligerent and disruptive. When Lauren told him to leave, he grabbed a tent pole, nearly causing the tent to fall.
They told an audience of their classmates that seemingly sweet words revealed a need for control. They described how physical abuse doesn't have to be a direct blow. They said any act of aggression meant to harm a partner, whether physical or emotional, counts as abuse.
"Nathan's assertion of dominance escalated throughout the teen's relationship," an MVP student said. "This is a warning sign."
But it takes more than a single assembly to get through to people, young and old. After all, MVP had existed at Lincoln-Sudbury before, for about a year after the 2007 stabbing death of a student by another teen, then lost steam after participating students graduated.
It's a pattern that mirrors the way society deals with tragedy: outcry and action that peters out until the next tragedy revives the sense of urgency.
The challenge for Lincoln-Sudbury now is to keep the audience filled, to institutionalize the changes they want to see in the culture, Hodin, the Safe Schools Coordinator, said. They selected juniors to be part of MVP team at Lincoln-Sudbury, and she hopes the April assembly keeps up momentum.
Some things changed, too, at Wayland High School, where Lauren and Nate met as freshmen. Bystander education is now part of the curriculum for ninth-graders, instead of 11th-graders. Teachers also receive a day of training each year on how to spot and respond to unhealthy relationships. This year, the course focused on ways to discuss healthy relationships outside of class by scrutinizing pop culture lyrics and popular media in music and English classes, for example
At the advice of the school psychologist, principal Patrick Tutweiler didn't tell students directly how to mourn Lauren; they waited for students to come forward with ideas on how to honor her memory. It resulted in the Lauren Astley memorial mosaic that hangs in an outdoor common area.
There's no handbook for school administrators on how to deal with the death of student, Tutweiler said. It certainly wasn't covered in his doctoral studies.
But schools can't afford to wait until the next tragedy, he said.
"All schools should be doing this," he said. "It's an important part of students' education."