Echoes of Parkland shooting ripple through area schools
It was Valentine’s Day when 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz walked into Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and killed 17 students and staff, and injured 17 more.
It was the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history and it spurred changes in local schools that continue to evolve.
One month later, students locally and across the country responded by participating in nationwide “walk-outs” to protest gun violence, to memorialize the Parkland students and to highlight that they feel unsafe in school.
In Spring-Ford, seven days after the shooting, the school board discussed the possibility of ensuring there are armed personnel in each of its 11 buildings.
Later in the year, the board hired a new head of security.
In Boyertown, a huge crowd materialized in the high school auditorium in the wake of a potential shooting threat made against a ninth grade assembly in May, that many said the district handled poorly in terms of communication.
In subsequent months, the board has spent additional money to step up its security at all its buildings, many of the measures no longer public because of a new law that allows security measures to be the subject of “executive sessions,” closed to the public.
And earlier this month, the Boyertown School Board voted unanimously to allow the school district police officer to be armed and to use deadly force if necessary.
The state legislature enacted Act 44, which restructures and improves current school safety funding programs to provide increased support for police, school resource officers and school psychologists. It also establishes a new grant program to help prevent, reduce and address school and community violence.
In Pottstown and Pottsgrove school districts, “active shooter drills” have become the new normal, with gun-toting police practicing the pursuit of armed intruders and children that learning leaving their schools due to the threat of an armed enemy is no different than a fire drill.
Each Pottstown school building now has three such drills a year.
In fact tensions are so high now that two Pottsgrove High School seniors were charged with disorderly conduct in May after a prank during which a chicken was released into the halls caused a school lock-down because they were wearing hoods to hide their identity.
This fall, Owen J. Roberts High School hosted a program with Chester County District Attorney Paul Hogan about how school shooters can be identified and caught.
School shooters are most often males, between the ages of 15 to 19, or 35 to 44, said Hogan.
Teen shooters usually have a grudge against a school and older men who become school shooters face pressures from work, family failed marriages, know they will not be a major league pitcher for the Phillies.
An “active shooter,” is someone who “wants to run the numbers up, get as high a body count as they possibly can,” Downingtown Detective Andy Trautmann told the OJR parents.
“A targeted shooter has a target in mind. Although they can turn into active shooters and they will shoot someone whop gets in their way,” he said.
“Frankly,” said Lower Pottsgrove Police Chief Michael Foltz, “its more likely statistically that we’ll have an active shooter drill in a school than a fire. I’ve been a police officer for almost 30 years and when I started no one would have ever thought something like this could happen,” said Foltz.
“Now I worry about it every day.”
About 700 students walked out of Pottsgrove High School Wednesday as they participated in a nationwide movement called National Walkout Day. The students walked along School Lane holding signs about gun violence and honored the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.
Parents and students lined up to speak at a town hall meeting in June called in the wake of a threat at Boyertown High School on Memorial Day weekend.
Police officers from the Lower, West and Upper Pottsgrove police departments were at Pottsgrove School District Monday participating in an active shooter exercise.
Lower Pottsgrove Police carry a dummy representing a shooting victim to safety during an active shooter drill held June 11 at Pottsgrove High School.