Tahoe reacts to Colorado shooting
Could it happen here?
While South Shore school and law enforcement officials are sure they do everything possible to avoid situations such as Tuesday’s tragedy in Littleton, Colo., they all agree it could happen anywhere.
“This situation, as it occurred there and as they have occurred around the country, can happen any time, any where,” said Ron Pierini, sheriff of Douglas County. “We can only limit the possibility of that happening.”
Officials were horrified with the news Tuesday afternoon that armed individuals had killed more than 25 people at a school in the Denver area.
“It’s terrible. I just don’t understand how something like this can happen,” Pierini said.
School officials felt the same way.
“I just think it’s a horrible tragedy,” said Larry Snyder, principal of George Whittell High School. “My heart goes out to the kids’ families – but also to the administrators. Any principal feels totally responsible for his school.”
“It’s horrible, absolutely horrible,” said Rich Alexander, superintendent of the Lake Tahoe Unified School District. “This is happening far too often around this country, and the schools and the community need to take a very firm stance on violence anywhere. It’s definitely a horrifying scenario.”
Officials agree the best way to prevent similar situations is to create an atmosphere of open communication between law enforcement personnel, school officials and students.
“I recall in earlier situations like this there were students who heard the people talk about it. There were signs there that no one had come forward with. My objective is to create an environment where that can happen,” Pierini said.
“That’s why we have to be super sensitive to everything we hear and everything that happens,” Snyder said.
Police officers are stationed at South Tahoe high and middle schools.
Brad Bennett, police and fire chief of South Lake Tahoe, said having them there helps with the open communication.
Pierini said a goal of his is to be able to bring school resource officers into Douglas County schools.
In both districts, officials agree law enforcement authorities and the schools cooperate extremely well together.
“I think we do a very, very good job in preventing this type of thing from happening here,” Alexander said. “It’s very difficult to prevent this type of thing, but you do the best you can.”
Jim Stevens, a parent of a South Lake Tahoe high school student, said he was sure South Tahoe and Whittell worked with local law enforcement to prevent problems like that.
“You can have all the safe school plans in the world, but there is no 100 percent guarantee. Something like that could happen anywhere,” he said.
Stevens and others talked about the incident at a South Lake Tahoe High School baseball game Tuesday afternoon.
Abi Bonham and Andrea Nobile, both 14, said they felt safe at South Tahoe High School.
“(If I had been at the Colorado school) I don’t know if I’d ever want to go back to school. That would traumatize me for life. They just came to school one day and got blown up,” Bonham said.
Said Whittell teacher Larry Reilly: “It’s scary. You’re now talking about a profession where you run the risk of getting shot at anywhere you work.”
The Lake Tahoe Unified School District – of which its high school and middle school each hold about 1,500 students – has had two situations where students brought firearms on campus this year, four situations with knives. George Whittell, with about 260 students, had no instances this year. One student was suspended in the 1997-98 school year for bringing a knife on campus.
All South Shore schools – both in the Lake Tahoe Unified and Douglas County school districts – have a no-tolerence policy toward weapons on campus. Students are immediately expelled if caught with firearms.
While officials believe they are doing everything possible to prevent similar situations, South Shore law enforcement agencies are prepared in other ways. South Lake Tahoe as well as Douglas and El Dorado counties have swat and hostage-negotiation teams.
“We don’t have to use them often, which is good,” Bennett said. “But you have to train for something like this, whether it’s a school or a bank. We work very closely with Douglas County and El Dorado County, and if anything ever happened, I know all three of the agencies would work together. Hopefully, we are prepared to deal with this type of situation.”
-Tribune Staff Writer Christina Proctor contributed to this story
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