- Grove City, Pennsylvania

December 28, 2012

To educate but not scare'

By Felicia A. Petro/Senior Reporter
Allied News

GROVE CITY — Schools, government buildings, banks, businesses and private homes have been waving American flags at half staff in Grove City and beyond to honor and mourn 20 children and six adults murdered by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Friday.

Nancy Lanza, mother of alleged 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, was also killed; shot four times with a .22-caliber rifle in the head as she lay in her bed before her boy took her vehicle and guns to executed kids as young as 6 years old at the school. He ended the massacre by killing himself as police drew in on him, authorities said.

"There's absolutely been a total sense of sadness and a little bit apprehension in being concerned that it could happen anywhere," said Jim Anderson, acting superintendent while Superintendent Dr. Richard Mextorf recovers from surgery.

"When you read about the shooting there, it was the most secure school and he still entered through," he said. "You can do anything to make it safe and it still could happen."

"It's awful," added Grove City police Chief Dean Osborne after Monday's council meeting, where council Vice President Jeff Black had prayed for surviving families and rescue workers involved. 

"You can be vigilant of what's going on, but if someone takes actions he took, it's hard to stop them," Osborne said. "There will be a lot more discussion about this as this unfolds."

In light of the Sandy Hook killings, school officials in Grove City have been talking this week about their lockdown policies, Anderson said.

First thing Monday, "I met with all the principals and we had a discussion about our safety procedures," Anderson said. "It was to make sure that everyone reviewed their lockdown policies. In general, 'What do we do in the district?'"

School staff were involved in the talks; to be refreshed on what to do "if it happened here ... and any other issues of door locks that needed repaired," Anderson added. "Everything is OK there." Many parents have called their kids' principals with concerns since the Connecticut shootings, he noted.

Anderson explained that if an intruder came into a district school, an announcement would be made over the loudspeaker, "We are in lockdown," he said. Children would then be locked in their classrooms and huddled in the safest spot in the room, where "teachers are instructed to keep kids calm and that nobody moves until an 'all clear' message is sent," he said.

No one - not even parents - can enter any entrance at any of the schools in the district without being "buzzed in, signed in and given a visitor's badge," Anderson stated. "All the staff is trained to be very diligent to question anyone they don't know or don't have proper credentials. There are security cameras at all entrances."

Schools in American have become a hotbed for shootings. In 1999, the mass casualties inflicted by two heavily armed students  - who also killed themselves - at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. shocked the nation and changed the way authorities handle school shootings.

"It could happen anywhere," Osborne said. In police jargon, schools are called a "soft target" because they have little security, he added. "You can't make schools a prison. Even with (Sandy Hook's great) security, he gained access."

Shortly after Columbine, Grove City police were part of a mock mass school shooting drill with area emergency medical technicians and paramedics at Grove City High School.

Osborne said training has continued. In the past year, four of his officers have trained at Slippery Rock University and Allegheny County Police Academy for school shootings.

"If that call comes in, I want our officers to be prepared," he said. "In an incident like that, you have to respond immediately. You can't delay."

The Mercer County Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) has officers that are also trained to be EMTs, so they can be armed in hostile situations while treating their wounded, the chief said.

"It sounds like (authorities in Sandy Hook) did a tremendous job," Osborne noted. "I don't know what the answer is. You have to be aware of potential risks, but the signs are very hard to predict."

At some point, Anderson said he would like to talk safety policies with Osborne.

On Monday, school leaders also discussed how to approach the younger kids about the shootings, Anderson noted. "One thing we did talk about is 'the fine line.' We didn't want to draw too much attention, and on Monday morning take all day with drills," he said.

"We didn't have an assembly, so to speak, but individual teachers talked to their classrooms about it 'just in case' anything would happen; to educate but not scare."

Although the staff have been saddened like everyone over the Connecticut shootings, "They've taken the attitude of putting their heads together on how to handle it. They've been great. They've been very professional," Anderson said.

Kids' curiosity about the shootings have been according to their personality - "Some want to know, some don't," Anderson noted. "One parent told me Monday that just in her home, one kid wants to know about it and the other doesn't."

Published Dec. 19, 2012, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201 A Erie St., Grove City.