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Shooting spurs review of school safety
The chances that a gunman will storm a school in Glenn County are slim, but as the grieving people of Newtown, Conn., have learned, it truly can happen anywhere.
As Newtown continues to mourn the 26 victims killed by a single gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 — 20 of whom were children — Glenn County law enforcement and school officials vow to take a deeper look into the safety of their own schools.
Throughout the county, parents nervously sent their children to school this week, a measure of how the tragedy has put people on edge.
School officials, such as Orland Unified Superintendent Chris von Kleist, posted a message on the district's website Monday, assuring parents that safety plans would be reviewed.
Site principals, such as Holly McLaughlin of Murdock Elementary School in Willows, immediately began phoning parents to reassure them that counselors were available to any child who needed help coming to terms with what they may have seen or heard about the shooting.
"The tragic events that took place in Connecticut last week have shocked the conscience of rational human beings everywhere," von Kleist said.
Glenn County Superintendent of Schools Tracey Quarne said Wednesday that meetings have been scheduled to review individual school safety plans, and that all Glenn County schools will work with local law enforcement to see if safety strategies need to be revised.
A joint meeting of law enforcement and the school districts is scheduled for Jan. 10.
The tragedy, Quarne said, has left everyone searching for answers.
In Willows, McLaughlin said she received calls from parents wondering if Murdock Elementary might be fenced for added security.
Murdock, CK Price and Fairview in Orland, Lake, Plaza and Hamilton City are all elementary school located just yards away from busy streets and highways, and all seem particularly vulnerable to anyone who may wander into multipurpose areas and classrooms, officials said.
"Fences, of course, cost money, but it is something the district might want to look at," McLaughlin said.
Meanwhile, law enforcement officers and educators will continue to collaborate on safety plans and emergency situation strategies as they have done in the past.
"We view our safety, response plans as living documents that are continuously reviewed and adjusted so that we can confidently respond to school crisis, and/or prevent crises from occurring in the first place," von Kleist said.
Of course, no school can be totally secure, officials said, and threats don't necessarily come from the outside.
One of the most prominent school shooting was that at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, in which two students killed 12 students and one teacher on the school campus before they committed suicide.
The shooting was initially planned as a bombing, followed by the shooting of survivors.
A year earlier, 15-year-old Kip Kinkle murdered his parents and engaged in a school shooting at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore., which left two students dead and 25 others wounded.
Kinkle is serving a 111-year sentence without the possibility of parole.
"I think we worry so much about the outside threat coming into the school, we build fences, walls and have protocols for people checking in at the office when they come on campus," said Orland Police chief J.C. Tolle. "But what if the threat is already in the school as a student or another staff member? We need to train school staff to recognize potential problems with other staff members and/or students and get them to act on it."
But whatever the threat, Glenn County's law enforcement officers say they are ready should the unthinkable occur.
Willows police Chief Bill Spears said in addition to training at Willows Elementary and Willows High School, his officers have trained at Glenn Medical Center and have had several pistol and rifle range exercises of active shooter tactics and application.
"The mission is simple in that there are three objectives," Spears said. "They are locate, isolate and eliminate."
In Newtown, shooter Adam Lanza killed himself when he saw police officers closing in.
In addition to training, Willows and Orland police departments and the Glenn County Sheriff's Office have been instrumental in working with Butte College in creating an active shooter course for northern California that was POST certified, Spears said.
"The emphasis was smaller police departments and sheriff's offices in handling such cases by having multi-agency active shooter teams to immediately deploy," he said. "This was unlike the larger southern agencies that would have personnel from a single agency."
Tolle said Orland has an active shooter instructor within his department, and that two training sessions are held each year in which the Willows Police Department, the Glenn County Sheriff's Department and the California Highway Patrol also participate.
Tolle said he will send two officers to an updated training in January.
"If there is a active shooter anywhere in the county, all law enforcement agencies would respond and assist," he said.
While Glenn County's law enforcement officers are sufficiently trained to respond to any threat, including an active shooter, Tolle said they do have deficiencies in equipment, such as body bunkers or shields for every officer's protection, as well as entry type tools that would enable officers to get into locked rooms.
And while people seek to explain, theorize or even justify what happened at Sandy Hook, Glenn County's law enforcement agencies said they would hesitate to storm a school that was under threat.
It's a possibility that weighs heavily on those in charge.
"In any type of situation where officers are at risk of being hurt or killed, it's going to be a difficult decision," Tolle said. "However, the job needs to be completed. Most likely I would be right next to them and one of the first officers to enter the hallway."
CONTACT Susan Meeker at 934-6800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.