Two students caught carrying pellet or BB guns on the campus of the St. Croix Educational Complex Wednesday caused government officials and the police department to take actions to deal with the horrific yet realistic issue of school shootings.
While officials are still investigating the events that transpired at Complex, Sen. Kenneth Gittens, chairman of the Committee on Homeland Security, Justice and Public Safety, is planning to hold meetings with the various stakeholders of the education system to come up with a plan of action to prevent a reoccurrence of Wednesday’s event and to ensure there’s a workable emergency evacuation plan in place to address that type of situation should it occur and be of a more serious nature.
In a statement released by his office, Gittens said he was appalled and dismayed by the incident, yet praised Complex’s school resource officers for their handling of the situation, which resolved the incident without injuries.
“Their actions should be applauded as they have secured the safety of all those at the school,” Gittens said in the statement. “Schools are considered safe havens, and while there, our students, faculty, staff and administrators should never feel as if their safety is threatened.”
Gittens added that just Tuesday night at a Complex meeting, the day before the incident, he said there needed to be an approved emergency evacuation plan in the event a live situation like Wednesdays should occur.
“I am gravely astounded at how simple it is for a student to bring a firearm on campus,” Gittens said. (Wednesday’s) after effect could have been devastating had the firearm been discharged and or of a high caliber.”
“We cannot and should not encourage the sale or access to any type of weapon, whether fake or real, by our children," he continued. "As parents we must check our children’s bags when they leave the house and when they return home. We must ensure that as professionals on campus we set an example, and as leaders, we are charged with a moral obligation to ensure laws and policies are put in place to keep our children safe.”
The Board of Education responded to the incident Thursday.
“The Department stands in staunch opposition to these acts,” Education Commissioner Dr. LaVerne Terry said. “The safety of our students is always our first priority, and that safety is threatened when weapons of any type are brought onto our campuses. Pellet guns, or BB guns, still have the ability to cause injuries, and we are asking for our parents to help us maintain our anti-gun and anti-violence policies by making sure their children come to school unarmed.”
Terry added that DOE officials were monitoring the investigation, where the students caught and their parents were being interviewed by Complex officials, and said the DOE would not hesitate to take appropriate disciplinary action when necessary.
Meanwhile, police on St. Thomas Thursday conducted an operation that while not related to the Complex incident, did underline the reality of such a potentially deadly school shooting situation.
They held an active shooter simulation at the Ivanna Eudora Kean High School to test the response of VIPD school resource officers assigned to that campus.
When the simulation began, shots echoed off the empty second floor hallways of the school. That’s when school resource officers, administrators, teachers and the police got started.
According to Melody Rames, the VIPD’s public information officer, several minutes after the initial shots were fired, four mock shooters were gunned down by officers and the school remained tightly locked down.
As one of the mock shooters walked slowly through the classroom lined halls he fired off about five rounds, walked several paces and fired another volley. He then entered a classroom of students and fired three shots toward a life-sized paper target officers previously placed there.
Despite the simulated heavy losses, 20 students and six administrators, both St. Thomas/Water Island Deputy Police Chief Dwayne De Graff and Principal Dr. Sharon McCollum agreed that officers and administrators performed well.
“The fatality count reflected the numbers at the recent Sandy Hook shooting,” De Graff said. “The officers used blank shots inside the school but we wanted the impact to be as close to the real incident as possible. We took every precaution to ensure no one was hurt or injured.”
De Graff added that only a few administrators knew about the simulation and school resource officers knew there was going to be drill but did not know specifics. Students who were inside the targeted classroom were briefed and instructed to move to a recessed corner of the classroom when they heard the first shot. That is where they were when the mock shooter entered, he said.
De Graff also said since school shootings stateside have escalated in both severity and regularity, the VIPD has heightened their officer’s awareness and participated in several drills led by the V.I. emergency management team. In the days before Thursday’s simulation, officers participated in table-top exercises and shakedowns at the school.
“We were prepared and ready for every eventuality,” De Graff said.