Courtesy of REUTERS
A calm morning in the common area at Marshall County High School in western Kentucky turned into a scene of carnage and death Tuesday morning when a 15 year-old male entered his school and fired a gun at fellow students and wounded sixteen people, according to authorities. Two were killed.
The student was apprehended at the scene and was charged Wednesday with two counts of murder and twelve counts of first-degree assault, according to Jason Darnall, the Marshall County Assistant Attorney. Plans have been laid to hold vigils for the two slain students, Bailey Holt and Preston Cope, both 15, according to the high school.
For all parties, the situation will leave scars that could last a lifetime or longer. Terrified students were seen crying to their teachers and guidance counselors, showing that the ordeal is far from over, even when the bullets cease, according to Sandars.
However, it must be noted that the situation could have ended much more catastrophic than it did. The police were called two minutes after the shooting began at 7:57 a.m. and were there within ten minutes to prevent a possibly more horrifying day.
This type of tragedy is not uncommon anymore across America; the New York Times reports that this was the nation’s 11th school shooting this year. It is only January.
Cherry Hill East can certainly do its part in preventing gun violence, however unlikely it may seem at the current moment that East be struck with a similar tragedy. Students and parents alike in Benton, the location of the shooting, were probably not assuming that their school would be the next to be fired upon. No one does, yet the questions on how to prevent such tragedies haunt the minds of administrators with their perplexity.
“How does any school prevent [a student from bringing in and shooting a gun] from happening?” asked former Assistant Principal Bernie O’Connor, the former East head of building security and current Interim Principal of Beck Middle School.
As an Assistant Principal at East for nine years, during which time he oversaw building security, he experienced firsthand the challenges posed by keeping the East community safe to the highest possible extent.
“It’s hard, it’s hard to imagine….It’s a question that keeps administrators up at night,” said O’Connor.
There’s a balance, an equilibrium point, that has to be found in terms of security. Does the safety of the school take precedence over student’s rights, or vice versa?
“[For 2,200 students] walking through the doors, spreading their arms, getting patted down, is that what you want? Is that what the parents want? [A police state] is what it becomes,” said O’Connor.
If the Benton school shooting teaches any lesson, it is that this issue should continue to be at the forefront of school conversation and policy.
William Modzeleski, a consultant who formerly led the Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools, said to the New York Times, “I think we’ve become desensitized to the fact that these things happened, and it takes a thing like Sandy Hook to bring us back to our senses.”
The danger is ever present, and he argues we can’t let everyday life interfere with the ability of a school to protect its’ students.
“My fear is that if you don’t hear about a school shooting for a while, educators move on to other things…Principals are busy. Teachers are busy. Superintendents are busy,” he added.
However, Cherry Hill as a district, combined with NJ as a state, are among the leaders in establishing protocols for this type of emergency. The Cherry Hill School District requires active shooter drills and has installed a plan district-wide for how to deal with such circumstances.
Even though people can say they do their best when it comes to safety, no measure will ever be satisfactory if the danger still exists. The Kentucky shooting serves to show that the metaphorical foot can never be taken off the gas because the safety of the school and its members is, and always should be, the first priority.