Those four words were predominant for Beeville parents Monday morning.
They knew that while children here were being driven to school, other children in the small but affluent town of Newtown, Conn., were in hearses, being driven to cemeteries.
Could it happen here?
President Obama said as much. At a memorial service in Newtown, he warned the nation that “This could be any town in America.”
None of the major networks televised his speech; only the cable channels. Ironically, as he spoke, 15 percent of those channels were broadcasting shows of violence, including murders by weapons of war.
Could it happen here?
School officials, the police, the sheriff’s office, their SWAT teams, the emergency management office, the hospital (see accompanying stories) and the schools agree.
Yes, it could.
But they also say they are as ready as possible if it does.
“I wish I could say that nothing like this is going to happen in Beeville,” says Dr. Sue Thomas, the Beeville Independent School District’s superintendent. “But I can’t say that. I don’t know.
“But I am satisfied with our security process.”
Dr. Thomas was attending a meeting with Texas legislators Friday. “I hadn’t watched the news before I went down to breakfast. Someone asked me if I had seen what was going on in Connecticut. I think I spent most of the day talking with or texting the district. I’m not sure what all the lawmakers had to say.”
Much of her directions already were in place at the schools — as they have been since the 1999 shooting in Columbine High School at Littleton, Colo.
A.C. Jones Principal Jaime Rodriguez already had ordered extra security procedures.
Missing is a reverse 911 calling system by which everyone could be robo-called, messaged or emailed simultaneously in the event of an emergency.
“We expect to have such a system in place soon,” Thomas says.
She has sent a letter to each parent to reassure them that a security plan is in place, and that the district had not received any threats of violence.
“Some of the parents took their children home on Friday,” she says. “We will excuse that, but our attendance rules remain in place. My grandkids go to school here. They’re in school today.
“I think our kids are safer in school than they are, say, in a mall, or a shopping center, or a movie theater,” she says. “Those places have been recently targeted by people with guns.”
John Fund, a writer for National Review, agrees. “The chances of being killed in a mass shooting are the same as being struck by lightning,” he writes.
Only this year, Thomas says, the district initiated new security procedures that mandated students and visitors to wear an identification badge.
“I can’t tell you how many parents got mad because they were required to wear an ID,” Thomas says.
The district long ago implemented a safety plan with portions tailored to individual campuses.
It conforms to guidelines issued by the Texas School Safety Center, based in San Marcus and a product of the Columbine incident.
On Monday, the Center announced that 78 out of 1,025 public school districts were not compliant with the center’s recommendations for school safety.
The Texas Senate mandated school district compliance with legislation passed in 2005.
BISD was listed among the 78, but Thomas stresses that is a mistake.
“BISD conducted a safety audit for the 2008-2011 cycle,” she says. The results, emailed to the Center, contained an error; the Center then placed BISD on the wrong list.
On Tuesday, the TSCC asked BISD to re-submit its audit so the error may be corrected.
“It’s very important that the Beeville community know that our schools are safe and that we audit safety and security often and make improvements when we see they are needed,” Thomas says.
On his official website, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has stressed the advisability of schools conducting regular safety drills.
Abbott appears on camera at the start of a video on the Center’s website which, in 25 minutes, demonstrates the proper security measures a school should have in place if a shooting incident occurs. The video is dramatic and, perhaps the result of the events in Newtown, chilling.
It is entitled “Saving lives when seconds count.” The url: www.oag.state.tx.us/criminal/schoolsafety_video.shtml
Could it happen here?
Security at Coastal Bend College, with a local enrollment averaging 1,200 and more than 160 teachers, administrators and staff scattered among more than 20 buildings, is challenging.
Susan Smedley, CBC’s director of marketing and public relations, says the facility has a 96-page safety plan that includes 22 steps to take in the event of an active shooter.
That protocol is followed by instructions on how to handle a person who is aggressive or violent.
Numerous points in its description are eerily familiar to the profiles of those responsible for shootings in Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Connecticut:
•Difficulty accepting authority
•Expressing a desire to harm others
•History of interpersonal conflict
•Extremist opinions and attitudes
•Sense of entitlement
The plan was last revised in 2009.
“This is a document we can’t allow to be static,” Smedley says. “The sad truth is there is something to be learned from the horrific incidents that other people have had to suffer through.”
The safety plan now will be reviewed annually.
Through a computer program called “Blackboard Connect,” college authorities can email, phone or text every student simultaneously.
Security at the local campus is provided by an agreement with the Beeville Police Department plus the presence of an armed guard on campus while classes are in session. In addition, the college has a contract with a security service.
Smedley also cites the college’s Technology, Professional and Public Services division chair, Dr. Kevin Behr — who also is a BISD trustee and a deputy sergeant for the sheriff’s office. “He has had FBI training,” Smedley says. “His experienced is well beyond the scope of his job here.”
As she pauses for a moment, the numbness and shock of parents in Newtown seem to invade the privacy of her office.
“There is nothing harder as a human being than facing the loss of a child,” Smedley says. “You need to have some kind of confidence that the people to whom you are entrusting your child — no matter how young or old — have a plan in effect.”
In two days, a grieving President Obama would ask a question that officials at BISD and CBC believe they have done their best to answer in the positive.
“Can we honestly say,” Obama asked, “we are doing everything to keep our children safe?”
Bill Clough is a reporter at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 122, or at beepic@mySouTex.com.