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Threats, Security Increase in Week Following Mass School Shooting at Sandy Hook

  • January 3, 2013

By Bay City News

Yesterday marked one week since a lone gunman went on a shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., and in the days since, the 
impact has been felt particularly at many Bay Area schools where there has  been an increase of safety threats and subsequent responses.

Since the 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook  Elementary School, more than a dozen schools throughout the region -- ranging  from preschools to college campuses -- have gone on lockdown or been evacuated because of threats to the school or nearby law enforcement activity.

It would appear that last Friday's mass shooting, with authorities identifying the gunman as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who is believed to have  killed himself and also killed his mother at a second location, has spurred a heightened sense of awareness and need for security on school campuses.

A preschool lockdown in Cupertino for a nearby suspect search, a  similar incident at a San Rafael elementary school, bomb and death threats at high schools in San Lorenzo, a mistaken case of a weapon shutting down all schools in a North Bay school district, and threatening callers at various  Oakland, Rohnert Park and Pleasant Hill elementary, middle and high schools  are just some of the more than 13 incidents in the past week that have  summoned staff to have schools shelter in place or evacuate until the potential threat is over.  Some schools, like Park School in Mill Valley and Olive Elementary in Novato, acknowledged the event by postponing regular drills to later date.

Dr. Ronald Stephens, the executive director at the Southern California-based National School Safety Center, which was established by the  federal government in the 1980s to serve school districts throughout the nation, said in the past week he has been informed of increases of threats, lockdowns, and extra security precautions at schools nationwide, including school districts from the East Coast, the Midwest, the South, and the West Coast.

The aftermath of a mass casualty incident like the one at Sandy Hook "creates a heightened vigilance on behalf of the community," Stephens  said.

He added there is a collective heightened sensitivity at schools, as seen after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999.

Professor Frank Zimring at the University of California at  Berkeley School of Law, who specializes in youth crime, gun control and other legal topics, said schools will be taking extra action in the weeks following an incident like the one in Newtown.

He said copycats and people calling in threats are inevitable and  school administrators have to react. "It's compulsory," he said.

In turn, the school community anxiety goes up even though the mass shooting occurred thousands of miles away, Zimring said. "In times of mass disaster we live in a much smaller society," he  said.

As to the increase of lockdowns this week, Stephens called the aftereffects of a national major crisis a "strange phenomenon," with copycats  making threats including some that may be genuine. "All threats have to be taken seriously," he said.

Zimring noted that the odds of a repeat attack are "infinitesimal," but copycat actors have an affect on students and staff even  if nothing happens.

San Jose State associate professor of education Roxana Marachi, who studies school safety and violence prevention, said calls into schools, 
lockdowns and other heightened security measures can derail learning as administrators and law enforcement have "a heightened sense of fear and  desire to ensure safety and security."

She noted it's a balance to not exacerbate that fear that comes after a campus shooting and maintaining a safe school environment. "It's a tough situation," Marachi said. "We want to take every threat seriously."

With 40 years of law enforcement under his belt in Alameda County,  Cmdr. James Hodges, head of emergency operations at California State University East Bay in Hayward, said events like last week's "get everyone talking, updating our plans, increasing our training."

He considers the increase in safety awareness and planning as the  silver lining of the horrific incident last week, of which he said, "it 
brought me to tears."

The massacre will "help to re-instill a sense of caring and safety to the community whether it be a K-12 school or a college campus," Hodges said.

He said he has observed how the increased vigilance wanes slightly after a major shooting event, but school communities in particular can never  afford to become complacent.

"There's just been so many (school shootings) no one has let their  guard down at all," Hodges said.

Stephens called last week's massacre "the most impactful of all the school shootings I've seen."
Gov. Jerry Brown called for a moment of silence Friday at 9:30 a.m., to honor the victims a week after the shooting. In Newtown, church bells rang 26 times in honor of those killed at the school.


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