SAFER SCHOOLS NEWS-VOL. 65
Attack Stopped but a Student Dies
A 12 year-old fifth grader took three rifles, two shotguns and two handguns to the school restroom to distribute them to friends who were going to help. They had talked about a Columbine style massacre but when they saw the guns, they became frightened and ran. As a School Resource Officer approached the restroom, a single shot rang out. The 12 year-old was found dead of a self inflicted gun shot to the head, lying among the arsenal he had brought to kill others.
When I read this news release, I was so struck by the multitude of issues that this school will have to confront. When I am using a scenario learning technique in a Emergency/Crisis Response Team training, I always ask teams to take a few minutes and brainstorm the issues that might arise.
Well, let me start that for you with this real incident. First of all, the people most involved will need extra Critical Incident Stress Management services. Someone must do triage to determine who needs what. The “who” certainly include the boy’s friends who were in the bathroom with him, the Principal, the responding police officers, the paramedics, the boy’s teachers, other students and staff at the school and of course any other students who might have heard him talking in the previous months. And what about the boy’s “enemies”. Are there any who might have teased [bullied] him in the past? The “what” might include one on one support, diffusing, debriefing, referral to further services, guided classroom discussion or some other intervention. Another issue is who provides those services, what type of training have they had, how is that coordinated and who on the school Crisis Response Team is responsible for mental health activities.
Other issues that might arise (in no particular order) are: The area of the school is now a crime scene, under the control of law enforcement and not usable until it’s released. What do you do with that bathroom now? Who cleans up? And how do we notify all students parents? What about traffic control? Media attention? His parents reaction? Other parents reaction? Does he have any siblings at school and if so how do we care for them?. Other issues might be what do we do the next day and the day after? Where do we put a safe room? Who oversees it? When do we remove his belongings from his desk? Or take his artwork down from the display wall? How do we say good-bye without glamorizing his cause of death?
A discussion will be had of whether or not metal detectors should be installed. You can be assured the school policy about back packs will be examined, the need for further training in Suicide Prevention and Threat Assessment will be discussed, we’ll talk about teaching students funeral etiquette, we’ll wonder if the school should do a memorial service in a suicide event, and ask how does the school work with the family during a family sponsored memorial service. Someone is bound to be concerned with the accounting of how the school responds needs to be kept, and when best to do a response evaluation to learn what worked and what needs to be improved. These are just a few of the issues that a school experiencing this type of crisis must consider.
What would your school do? How would they handle this situation? Do you have a plan and process in place to effectively manage a crisis like this? Do you have an Aftermath Plan? What further training might you need to be better prepared? Where can you get help will these concerns?
Remember, in this one the majority of staff are considered “secondary victims” and may be to close to the situation to be objective and may have unusual needs of their own. Do you have an arrangements with neighboring schools to help? What community support is there to refer adults and children to if the need arises? Is there a Law Enforcement Chaplaincy group or community Critical Incident Stress Management Team available to help coordinate and provide some services?
The questions just keep coming. I’m sure you’ve thought of some I haven’t listed. If I can help you be better prepared in some way, please let me know. And remember, the school that has this kind of an incident will handle it, somehow. Schools always have and always will. The challenge is to handle it with the least amount of damage and chaos and come through it with a better response process for the next one. Let me know how we can help you be better prepared.
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