Not only that, but Koren's extensive research earned him a subpoena during a hearing this past Tuesday on the Hernandez case.
Koren graduated from Southwood in 1996. He remembers a school full of music and art, bursting with creativity. His middle school experience, he says, defines him. Koren went on to Coral Reef High School, winning the Miami Herald's Silver Knight Award for drama in 2000. He studied theater at Boston University.
Kyle Freeman, a seventh grade drama student at Southwood Middle School, portraying a student in Defining Code Red. The play is based on the 2004 murder of Southwood eighth grader Jaime Gough
He was working for Broadway Across America in Boston in 2004 when a Miami Herald e-mail alert flashed the news of Jaime's death across his computer screen. Koren immediately called the school (he says he still knew the phone number by heart). He was told of the "code red," then left work in a daze and didn't come back for three days. Eight months after the incident he had moved back to Miami and was working as a substitute teacher at Southwood.
He had brought a small video camera with him with a plan to make a documentary. At first he told none of his coworkers about his project. But Koren is the first to admit that he likes to talk a lot. He brought up the topic of Jaime Gough and Michael Hernandez with teachers, administrators, students, custodians, security guards anybody and everybody he could find. (Michael Hernandez's legal defense team would later come to refer to him as "the mole.")
Koren spoke with many who had never shared their stories of that day. Many of them were harboring trauma. Although the school district had flooded Southwood with counselors in the days following Jaime Gough's death, visiting with one wasn't mandatory, even for faculty and staff who had been first responders, like school counselor Bob Lunior.
"The system did provide as much counseling as people wanted, but sometimes it's difficult to ask," says Lunior.
Koren's play conjures the terror and disarray of that day, drawing on his interviews: the security guard first called to the scene; the custodian who had to mop up the blood. He spoke with the parents of the child who had first discovered Jaime in the stall. He spoke with countless teachers, who had been locked in classrooms with students for nearly seven hours with nothing to eat.
Koren also documented the small aftershocks kids and teachers who became scared to go to the bathroom at school, children who were interviewed by detectives without their parents being notified, two empty desks left in an otherwise full classroom.
Out of respect, however, Koren didn't speak with the parents. Although he would eventually compile the most holistic account of what happened in Southwood on February 3, 2004, its nucleus the stabbing of Jaime Gough was left untouched.
After a few months of research, Koren decided to begin writing a play. From his interviews he compiled composite characters of teachers, parents, security guards, and students. At the same time, he found himself increasingly committed as a teacher. He took a full-time job as a language arts teacher at Southwood in the fall of 2005.
Kathy and Manny Hernandez saw a notice for the play in the newspaper. "It upset me," she says. But her husband called Koren to learn more. They met at a coffee shop and talked for a long time.
A representative for the Goughs called the theater box office looking for Koren as well. He says that the Goughs didn't feel they were ready to watch the play, but they offered their blessing.
For those most directly affected by the murder, the play had a healing quality. "There were a lot of emotional people in that room," remembers Lunior. "I got a little teary-eyed. I had a conversation with one of the staff members who was in the bathroom with me after we saw it. It was good for us."