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School shootings cause concern

William Ferchland

Amid headlines of three school shootings in a week, some around Tahoe Valley Elementary may have nervously wondered why police cars roamed around the campus on Tuesday afternoon.

As it turned out, authorities were looking for a person who reportedly was casing houses in the neighborhood and ran from police.

The recent shootings are a stark reminder to school officials and law enforcement personnel about the possibility of violence emerging on South Shore campuses.

“I will tell you it’s extremely troubling, certainly to all administrators, teachers, parents. Everyone has to be affected by these news reports,” said Carol Lark, superintendent of Douglas County School District.

Before taking the head job at Douglas County this year, Lark was a superintendent in Las Vegas’ Clark County, where four schools were on lockdown following a report of a person with a gun entering a high school.

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Officials with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department and the South Lake Tahoe Police Department said they have trained in scenarios involving a person with a gun at school.

Every summer, the police department conducts an “active gunman” training at South Tahoe High School.

Numerous drills are undertaken for all officers, Lt. Marty Hale said.

“We can’t wait for (Special Weapons And Tactics unit) to come on scene,” Hale said. “That’s too much time in some of these situations.”

Lt. Keith Logan said the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department has blueprints for all schools. A deputy assigned to the schools, Greg Shields, has been on the beat for years and is frequently on campuses, Logan said.

Still, as the murders in a one-classroom school in Amish country Monday and the killings in a Colorado high school on Sept. 27 displayed, such incidents can occur anywhere.

“These are by and large smaller schools, smaller towns and (thus) it’s so difficult to predict,” Lark said.

Safety committees from school sites to the district level are helpful for addressing concerns, said Lisa Huard, safe schools coordinator for Lake Tahoe Unified School District.

More efforts are placed on ensuring staff and visitors alike wear identification when at school. Visitors, including parents, are encouraged to check in at the front desk to obtain a visitor’s badge, Huard said.

“We have to be really cognizant on who’s coming to our schools,” Huard said. “Our parents need to understand we’re not being a pain in the neck. We need to know who’s where.”

While shock waves were felt by those at South Shore, Logan’s pain was more personal. Spending 10 weeks at an FBI academy with other law enforcement officials, Logan met Fred Wegener, sheriff of Park County, Colorado, where a high school girl was killed by Duane R. Morrison, who then turned the gun on himself after killing a 16-year-old girl.

Logan said he called his friend but had to leave a message.

“He’s just an outstanding man,” Logan said.

Parent Julie Butler said she feels safe in South Lake Tahoe. But as the shootings indicated, they can happen anywhere.

“I think the assumption is it wouldn’t happen here because it’s such a great place but it happened in other communities just like ours,” she said.

Nationwide school-related violent death summary data

School Year Total Deaths

2006-2007 7

(From 8/1/06 to present)

2005-2006 27

2004-2005 39

2003-2004 49

2002-2003 16

2001-2002 17

2000-2001 31

1999-2000 33

Total: 219

Source: SchoolSecurity.org


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