Several incidents at schools in Shenandoah County this week further rattled the nerves of parents and community members already on edge about security in the wake of the Dec. 14 mass shooting at a Connecticut school.
“This unfortunately does occur in the aftermath,” said Maj. Scott Proctor with the Shenandoah County Sheriff’s Office.
On Wednesday, a 33-year-old Strasburg man was arrested after entering Sandy Hook Elementary in Strasburg bearing a wooden board with the words “high powered rifle” written on it. The Strasburg school has the same name as the Connecticut elementary school that was the site of last week’s tragedy.
Then, on Thursday, police investigated two reports of suspicious behavior at Shenandoah County middle schools.
Jennifer Dill is a parent of a kindergartner and a first-grader who attend Sandy Hook.
Dill said what makes her most uneasy is the lack of communication she feels she initially received from the school system.
“I found out [about the Wednesday incident] on Facebook and that is entirely inappropriate,” she said. “I am not unreasonable and I understand [them] not wanting to cause panic, but there has to be some middle ground.”
Dill said she experienced a wide range of emotions after learning of the arrest at her children’s school.
“I couldn’t decide if I was scared or [upset],” she said. “I’m not an alarmist and I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but this is just hitting too close to home. This has shaken me in a way I’ve never been shaken before.”
Although Superintendent B. Keith Rowland said he has heard from some parents who have been keeping their children home from school, Dill said she is not at that point yet.
“My plan right now is to keep with the status quo,” she said. “I don’t want to keep them home because I don’t want to alarm them. … If they were apprehensive or scared that would be a different situation.”
She said that other than concern regarding the extra police and the presence of TV cameras, she hasn’t heard much of a reaction from her two children.
Rowland said after the New Year he plans to start holding school safety forums to hear parents’ concerns and opinions.
“[These events] certainly set off a sense of uneasiness among parents,” he said. “Even though you’d like to think that our schools are safe, there are certainly things we need to do and we need to re-evaluate some of our procedures.”
Shenandoah County Sheriff Tim Carter said Monday that he sent a letter to the Board of Supervisors appealing for the funds to station a resource officer at every school in the county. The division now has two resource officers per campus; each campus has three schools.
Dill said the first thing she’d like to see is the school doors locked at all times, with some sort of doorbell or buzzer system and possibly an armed presence.
“Just one,” she said. “I don’t believe teachers should be armed.”
Proctor said that although the high volume of calls to area schools is unusual, he has seen similar responses after national tragedies.
“After the Virginia Tech shooting we did have a series of school incidents,” he said. “None involved any violence or assault, just some disruptive behavior such as threatening messages.”
Contact Kaitlin Mayhew at 574-6290 or firstname.lastname@example.org