What Parents and Teachers Should Tell Their Kids About School Shootings

Sarah Stewart Holland

For most, the morning of Friday, February 12, 2016 was to be the last school day before the start of the long President’s Day weekend. For students at Independence High School in Glendale, Arizona, this was no ordinary school day. At about 0753 hours, Glendale Police received an emergency call of shots fired and the school immediately went into lockdown procedures. Police located two 15 year old sophomore girls deceased outside the cafeteria each with a fatal gunshot wound in what would later be determined to be a murder suicide. It seems once again, tragedy and violence have found their way into our schools impacting childhood innocence and leaving many to question what can be done to stop the violence.

As a law enforcement professional for the past 26 years, I knew the drill well, from response, mitigation, investigation, and then back into service for the next call. But as a parent, I found myself in uncharted waters. My 14 year old freshman son attends a high school roughly 6 miles away from Independence High, and I was now faced with the reality of having to talk to my son about gun violence at school. I must admit, I was unprepared and angry at this new reality our children are confronted with at such an early age. As I prepared for this conversation, it occurred to me for the first time how vulnerable parents feel during a crisis such as this. As I researched this topic, I wanted to offer some recommendations for other parents who might find themselves in a similar situation and in need of a place to start a conversation with their children. I have included some basic tips for parents when talking with their kids that could help them survive a violent school incident.

Run — Hide — Fight

1. Run!

· This seems simple enough, but the idea is to create the maximum amount of distance possible between your child and the shooter or threat without putting them in the line of sight of the attacker

· Openly discuss escape routes should an incident occur, especially if on a second story of a building — know how to gain access to the outside even if through a window

· React immediately to the sound of the threat — do not allow yourself to wait and see what will happen next — run and create distance before the threat can reach you

· Forget your belongings — escaping with your life is the only thing that matters

· Encourage others to run to the nearest exit as well — especially if someone appears disoriented or too afraid to move — grab them and have them follow you to safety

2. Hide (Barricading)!

· If running is not possible or if the attacker is rapidly approaching, look for a place to hide or a room that you can barricade yourself inside

· Turn off the lights, lock the door, and if with others direct them to be silent

· Call 911

· Seek cover (capable of stopping a bullet) if available or concealment (capable of hiding a person from view) if no other option is available

· Try to remain calm (Understandably easier said than done)

3. Fight (Engaging the Shooter)!

· Only as a final option and only if you’re sure you will be shot if you do nothing

· Do not waste time trying to reason with the shooter or plead for your life — this approach has proven ineffective against a committed attacker — Fight!

· If with others when confronted by the attacker, try to create confusion by yelling or throwing objects to distract — this may buy a few extra seconds for victims to escape

· As a last resort Attack with any type of weapon you can find (Scissors, glass, or heavy or sharp object) — Aim high for the face and eyes or to the groin to cause as much pain as possible — Once you attack, remain committed to the attack because your life depends on it

Another theme expressed by parents is the anxiety they feel in the moments following a violent school incident. They rush to the school clamoring for answers about their children only to be told no information is immediately available. As a reminder, there are a couple of protocol issues parents should remember that will come into play during a law enforcement response to an incident such as this.

Ready Houston

School Lockdowns:

In a time of crisis, it is important to remember the intent behind school lockdown procedures. A lockdown is intended to prevent anyone from entering the school’s perimeter. Secondarily it is intended to provide a stationary location of all students so they can be located and accounted for when public safety officials arrive on scene. This parental denial of access to students typically is the prevailing source of anxiety and fear for parents trying to determine the welfare of their children.

To expedite this process, public safety will coordinate with school district officials to identify an alternate location away from the school that will be utilized to conduct parent-student re-unification efforts as soon as the incident has been brought to a successful resolution. Public Information Officers will facilitate the release of information and instructions for parents with the assistance of school officials and the media.

Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News

During a school lockdown, students are directed to secure and stop using all communications devices while the lockdown remains in effect. The intent behind this protocol was originally to prevent the posting and miscommunication of erroneous information and to quell the rumoring process via social media platforms. I would submit as a parent and seasoned law enforcement practitioner, I disagree with this outdated precept. In a day and age of technology and social media, the ability for students to quickly communicate via cell phone to a parent or loved one benefits in a variety of ways.

First it provides parents with the ability to ascertain the welfare of their child and can de-escalate some of the anxiety parents experience as the incident continues. As an investigator, the ability to monitor social media content within a geo-fenced location can be a powerful intelligence and information gathering tool that would otherwise be silenced. Students today are technologically advanced and proficient in the use of these systems and public safety must leverage this increased capability effectively. During Friday’s shooting incident at Independence High, this was a take away that will be considered moving forward.

As a parent, my directive to my son was to employ the Run — Hide — Fight method should he be confronted with a situation at his own school. Once he was in safe location, I wanted him to contact me via text to let me if he was injured and where on campus he was (building and room number) and that’s it. Although admittedly somewhat self-serving, I believe it follows a logical sequence that would otherwise emerge during an event.

Though I hope no parent ever experiences the pain of a school violence tragedy, take comfort in our youth and their ability to comprehend and normalize the world as it is today. Sadly, this has become their new reality. As a nation of homeland security professionals, our work remains cut out for us to ensure the safety and security of the next generation of public safety practitioners.

Submitted by a member of Team plugged-in.

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