• 66°

Galey: ‘We pray it never happens’ — plans are in place for dealing with a school shooting

School officials and first responders have plans in place they hope they’ll never use.

Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey is shocked at the number of school shootings reported this year alone. Most recently, a 15-year-old male student shot 16 people in the lobby at Marshall County High School in Kentucky. Two 15-year-old students died — a female at the scene and a male at the hospital.

The day before the Kentucky shooting, on Jan. 22, shots were fired from a truck in the parking lot of NET Charter High School, targeting a crowd of students during lunch time. One student was injured, but not shot. On that same day, in the cafeteria of Italy High School in Texas, a 16-year-old male student fired at a 15-year-old classmate and immediately left the school.

A student was fatally shot on the campus of Wake Forest University Jan. 20.

If it happened in those places it could happen here, and Galey wants to be ready.

“It’s happening all around the country,” he said. “We pray that it never happens here, but if it does we all want to be prepared and know what our roles would be if it were to happen.”

Mississippi is not immune to the tragedies.

In 1982, 18-year-old school dropout, James Hartzog, killed his girlfriend, 17-year-old Faye Williams, in her algebra class at Wingfield High School. Hartzog then took his own life.

In 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham, murdered his 50-year-old mother, Mary, at home before killing his ex-girlfriend, 16-year-old student, Christina Menefee, and 17-year-old student, Lydia Kaye Dew, then wounding seven others at Pearl High School.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin called on Americans recently to “wake up” and recognize that school shootings are a “cultural problem.”

“We have become desensitized to death, we have become desensitized to killing, we have become desensitized to empathy for our fellow man and it’s coming at an extraordinary price and we have got to look at the root causes of this,” Bevin told The Associated Press.

“We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen,” he added.

First responders, law enforcement and school officials in Lincoln County are expecting that it could happen here.

They have plans in place.

Galey is organizing a full-scale active shooter training drill similar to recent exercises held at Enterprise Attendance Center with a fire rescue scenario and one held near King’s Daughters Medical Center in a vacant field near Hwy. 51 with a fatal wreck and helicopter crash scenario.

He wants to have a shooter drill at a school.

“I’ve talked to some of the participants that would be involved in it,” he said. “It would be when the children are out but the teachers are there. We’re working on it.”

Galey said the benefits of having a drill is because various agencies get the chance to work together and put their knowledge to the test in a situation that’s not actually life-threatening.

“We critique ourselves afterward and see if we can make it better,” he said.

The Brookhaven School District had a similar drill at Mamie Martin Elementary last year during a school day, said Brookhaven School Superintendent Ray Carlock.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment first before learning can take place,” he said.

School Resource officer David Johnson, one of two employed full time by the district, said parents were notified of the drill ahead of time “so no one would assume it was a real thing.”

He said the Mississippi Department of Education has created crisis plans for all emergencies such as fire, tornadoes, inclement weather and active shooter.

“We have plans in place for every one of those,” he said.

Carlock said campuses use security cameras and a visitor control policy that requires proper identification to go anywhere on campus besides the office.

The school safety plans are revisited each year.

Exterior doors are also locked to prevent entry into hallways, although crash bars allow students and staff to exit in emergencies, he said.

Students are also aware of safety procedures and are reminded that they should be aware of anything out of the ordinary on campus.

“We tell them, ‘Notice what’s around you and report what you see,’” he said.

Carlock said administrators and teachers interact with the students and are able to recognize anyone who shouldn’t be on campus.

“Our schools are as safe as any schools around,” he said. “We have a very good community and to be honest, these people watch out for our schools and our kids.”