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School security a focus after shooting
Dec 15, 2012 3:00 pm
An elementary school shooting, where 27 people, including 18 children, were killed Friday morning in Connecticut, brings to light the importance of school safety and security in Wilson County.
Wilson County schools safety director David Burton said he’s working with other school officials to make campuses as safe as possible.
Director of Schools Mike Davis said at a Dec. 3 Wilson County Board of Education meeting plans are to add secure vestibules at W.A. Wright and West elementary schools during winter break. He said at the time the work will make all Wilson County school campus entrances secure.
Burton, who is in charge of safety and campus security for Wilson County Schools, said Friday the secure entrances are important to keep unwanted visitors off campus.
“That is an ongoing project,” Burton said. “We have been retrofitting all of the schools, especially the older schools, with secure entrances.
“You go into the main lobby and are forced to go into the office. We have barricades that will not allow entrance into the school without going into the office first.
“We are getting them done as quickly as we can. The newer schools already have them included in the design, and we are getting them in place in the older schools.”
Burton said once a visitor enters a school office, even more security procedures are in place.
“We have a visitor policy,” Burton said. “You have to have business with the school to be there. Even parents can’t be there without a reason. We encourage parent involvement, but they can’t just be wandering around the campuses.”
Burton said school resource officers are assigned to many of the Wilson County schools, including two at each high school and one at each middle school. He said an SRO is not stationed full time at each elementary school, but officers regularly patrol each school. Burton would not say what schools didn’t have a full-time SRO on campus for security reasons.
“We want that law enforcement presence there. It is a great deterrent,” Burton said. “It is my goal to have an SRO at each school at all times.”
Burton said laws give SROs and administrators the right to search any person or vehicle that comes on campus. He said teachers and administrators are trained to put policies and procedures in action should something happen.
“We have policies and procedures in place,” Burton said. “We have an all-hazard approach, meaning we have procedures in place for all situations, both natural or man-made.
“All staff members are required to wear ID cards, and they are instructed to approach anyone without one.”
Burton said it’s too early to know whether the incident in Connecticut on Friday will alter plans and procedures.
“We are still gathering information from this most recent shooting,” Burton said. “We’re not sure of all the details. We are not sure if this incident will alter what we are doing now.
“Anytime this happens, it just breaks our hearts. Our hearts and prayers go out to this Connecticut community during this time.”
The shooting happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Conn. Another person was found dead at in Newtown, sources told The Hartford Courant. Many of the shootings at the school took place in a kindergarten classroom, sources said. One entire classroom is unaccounted for.
The shooter – identified by CNN as Ryan Lanza – is dead, and the situation is secure, said State Police Lt. J. Paul Vance. Another official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still under way, said the gunman apparently had two guns.
A law enforcement official in Washington said the attacker was a 20-year-old man with ties to the school and that one of the guns was a .223-caliber rifle. Public records show that Lanza lived in Newtown, Conn. at one point, and he is also listed as living in Hoboken, N.J. Police are searching that residence as well, sources say.
Three people were brought to Danbury Hospital, but their condition was unknown. The emergency room is on lockdown.
Soon after 9:40 a.m., police reported that a shooter was in the main office of the school. A person in one room had "numerous gunshot wounds," police said.
Teachers escorted groups of students – some crying, some holding hands – away from the school. Some students were still in the school at 10:30 a.m., parents said. Police were still searching the school at 11 a.m., and police dogs were brought in.
Around noon, the triage area was broken down, stretchers were taken away and the SWAT team left the building. School and local emergency officials were accounting for the children, who were released to their parents. Some parents were sequestered at the Sandy Hook Fire Department, directly in front of the school.
Other frustrated parents were desperately trying to get information from officials as they searched the school.
Vanessa Bajraliu, a 9-year-old fourth grader, heard the shots. "I saw policemen – lots of policemen in the hallway with guns," she said. "The police took us out of the school. We were told to hold each others' hands and to close our eyes. We opened our eyes when we were outside."
Her brother, 17-year-old Mergim Bajraliu, a senior at Newtown High School, was at his nearby home when he heard shots, he said. He first went to a neighbor's house.
"Then we heard sirens," he said. He rushed to the school on foot and saw a girl being carried out, he said. She looked badly injured. Another girl had blood on her face, he said. Mergim soon found his sister and took her away from the scene.
Parent Richard Wilford said his Sandy Hook second-grader, Richie, heard what he described as "pans falling" when gunshots rang out. He said that his son told him that the teacher went to go check, came back in and locked the door and told the students to stand in the corner.
"What does a parent think about coming to a school where there's a shooting" It's the most terrifying moment of a parent's life ... you have no idea," Wilford said.
Brendan Murray, a 9-year-old fourth grader, said he was in the gym with his class when they heard "lots of banging." He said the teachers put the students in a nearby closet where they stayed for about 15 minutes before police officers told them to leave the building.
The boy said the students ran down a hallway where there were police at every door. He said "lots of people were crying."
Eight-year-old Alexis Wasik, a third-grader at the school, said police were checking everybody inside the school before they were escorted to the firehouse.
"We had to walk with a partner," she said.
One child leaving the school said that there was shattered glass everywhere. A police officer ran into the classroom and told them to run outside and keep going until they reached the firehouse.
Audra Barth, who was walking away from the school with her first-grade son and third-grade daughter, says a teacher took first-graders into the restroom after bullets came through the window.
The Hartford Courant via MCT contributed to this report.