The Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, Florida, is a harsh reminder that no school or community is immune to unimaginable violence.
On Feb. 14, a 19-year-old gunman walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, armed with a semiautomatic assault weapon, smoke grenades and a mask, and opened fire. The ensuing rampage left 17 people dead and more than a dozen wounded.
It’s the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, where a gunman killed 20 students and 6 teachers at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Since then, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide, according to an article by the New York Times. In those episodes, 438 people were shot, 138 of whom were killed.
Sixteen of the 239 shootings can be classified as mass shootings, events in which four or more people are shot. On average, there have been about five school shootings each month, including episodes that were not mass shootings, the New York Times reports.
Although Parkland is more than a thousand miles away, Bossier Parish officials aren’t ignoring the tragedy. Bossier School Superintendent Scott Smith said safety is the district’s number one priority.
“We take the safety of our students very seriously,” he said. “Obviously, we haven’t encountered anything like they have in Parkland, but we’re prepared at all times for any type of situation.”
The key, Smith said, is to be proactive, not reactive. Bossier is one of two districts in the entire state to have school resource officers on every public school campus.
Their purpose is to be a “visible law enforcement presence” and to “deter, prevent and respond to crime,” according to the Bossier Schools website. SROs also work closely with administrators on law-related matters, assists with school safety needs and serves as a vital link to other emergency personnel during critical incidents.
More importantly, SROs serve as as informal advisors and conflict mediator to students. Students are encouraged to seek advice from the SRO so that issues can be “addressed in a positive, trusting atmosphere before they develop into more serious problems.”
Bossier Sheriff Julian Whittington said building trust and relationships within the school is is vital to the role each SRO plays.
“That way if something’s going on,” Whittington explained, “the students will feel comfortable letting the SRO know so they can take action.”
There are 35 School Resource Officers on the 34 Bossier Schools campuses. Airline High School, Bossier’s largest school, has two SROs.
Each school also has crisis emergency plans in place. Drills are held throughout the year to educate administrators, faculty and students on what to do in case of fire, severe weather/tornado or active shooter.
Lt. Adam Johnson, Director of Security for Bossier Schools, said it’s mandated that schools have crisis lockdown drills twice a year (once in the fall and once in the spring).
“That’s our protocol in Bossier Parish,” Johnson said. “We practice for these things and we will continue to prepare for this. These SROs are our boots on the ground inside these schools. They are tactically trained to face the threat when that bad day comes.”
In the event that the unimaginable does happen, Sheriff Whittington said SROs are highly trained on how to handle intense situations.
“Our guys have what they need to get the job done,” Whittington said. “They won’t wait for someone to come back them up…they have all the gear they need to go in and take them out. That’s what they are trained to do.”
The Parkland, FL suspect, identified as Nikolas Cruz, was arrested and charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. Authorities say he had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary reasons and was enrolled elsewhere in the district.
A key component was the gunman’s activity on social media. Cruz posed with guns and knives in photos posted on his Instagram and made chilling comments online, hinting at future violence.
The FBI had received at least two separate tips about Cruz, one of which came in January 2018 about ‘the potential’ for a school shooting. The tip should have been assessed as “a potential threat to life” and forwarded to the Miami Field Office. This would have led to additional “investigative steps,” which were not conducted.
Lt. Johnson said the most important thing a student or parent can do if they see disturbing images or threatening comments on social media is to speak up.
“If you see something, say something,” he said. “Tell somebody. Let us know. Call the police. Don’t just sit on it and not tell anyone about it.”
By Amanda Simmons