This post changed titles three times already. I’ve drafted two rough starts and deleted both. There’s no making sense of the news from Newtown, CT. In its place, a flashback that hits me every time one of these unbelievable tragedies occurs.
Long ago – well, not really all that long ago. It was eight or nine years ago. I taught in an elementary school with a go-get-em principal, a woman who will remain at the top of my list for elementary principals forever. She was contacted by the local police department who wanted to train and practice the new recommended procedure to neutralize shooters or other dangerous intruders in a school, mall, or other public place
She said yes, of course. When she asked for teachers to volunteer, I joined up.
Along with most of the city’s liaison officers, several higher-up district administrators, and all the school principals in town, we teachers filed into a high school auditorium to watch an analysis of the Columbine High School tragedy. The officer in charge pointed out the main things that went wrong and then used that to tell us the rationale for the new training.
The method that was new then is now the norm for mass shooting scenes. CBS News interviewed one who helped put the philosophy into practice. “Go toward the shots,” he said repeatedly. “Neutralize the shooter or shooters.” It’s what we practiced, and it’s what they still do.
Sandy Hook Elementary School had staff who knew what to do. The principal’s last act may have been turning on her PA microphone in an attempt to inform the rest of the school that there was danger. Children told of calm teachers who pulled them to safety, hid them in corners and in closets and in cubbies, and evacuated them swiftly to the gathering place, a nearby firehouse.
Press conferences and news releases were, so far, compassionate and respectful. Grieving parents photographed from a distance, parents of surviving children showing support and empathy for those who lost theirs. But – there were no bodies, no blood, no attempts to show or suggest the carnage that remained in the school building the television cameras. For this thoughtfulness, I’m grateful. I hope members of the media continue to respect those touched by this tragedy.
But did this mass murderer show signs beforehand? We hear too many stories after the fact. Red flags, as we call them in education, fly up and grab our attention. Then files are filed and the students drop out or move out of town, out of state, out of range. The medical files remain sealed, and the only public statements come from the distant memories of people on the periphery, not close enough to have intervened.
Our public safety forces know how to get in and stop mass attacks like this. But so far, too few people know how to prevent them.
And that still scares me.