April Butler, an English teacher at Searcy High School, has a niece and nephew who live in Florida. When learning about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, she was unsure if the shooting occurred at their school.
“When I found out it wasn’t their school, I was still very upset,” Butler said. “As a teacher, I can’t imagine dealing with a tragedy like this firsthand. As a parent, I shouldn’t have to worry about my child being put in harm’s way at school.”
Parkland surpassed Columbine as the deadliest high school shooting in America, with 17 people killed and more than a dozen wounded, according to Time Magazine. Butler said when she first began her teaching career, school shootings were rarely considered to be a possibility.
On Wednesday, Searcy High School received an online threat as part of a national threat to schools abbreviated SHS, according to a Facebook post by the White County 911/Dispatch Center. The school increased police presence on Thursday.
“Over the years, my job has changed due to the fact that we now have to think about events like school shootings happening in our school,” Butler said. “There are so many aspects of the problem that are being debated, but the time has come for action, not debate.”
While attending graduate school at Harding, Butler had a class with former adjunct professor Lynette Thetford. Thetford, who was wounded while trying to protect students in the Jonesboro school shooting in 1998, talked about her experience in the class.
“I had been a teacher for many years at that point, but listening to her talk about what happened at her school that day in 1998 made me realize that my job as a teacher would be different from that point on,” Butler said.
According to The Miami Herald, the Parkland shooter repeatedly received disciplinary actions from Marjory Stoneman Douglas for disturbing behavior. The Herald reported that he had previously attended a school for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities before being readmitted to Marjory Stoneman Douglas. According to the FBI, the bureau received several warnings from neighbors and “a person close” to the shooter, regarding the shooter’s alarming statements and previous acts of violence.
Multiple threats of violence have been made in Arkansas schools since the shooting in Parkland occurred. According to KARK, at least 11 arrests have been made in connection with students threatening violence against their schools.
Teachers at Searcy Public Schools participate in extensive training every year to prepare for disasters. Butler said the Searcy Police Department and school resource officers prepare the teachers and students on what to do if a similar event ever happened on campus. According to Butler, lockdown drills, cameras and security policies help ensure school safety.
Butler said she thinks part of the problem is how easily accessible violence is to children.
“When children grow up thinking violence is the norm, how can we expect them not to act out?” Butler said. “We need to help children understand consequences for behavior and guide them in good decision making processes. This something we must all do. It definitely takes a village.”
Director of Public Safety Craig Russell said Harding carefully studies tragedies, like that in Parkland, in order to prepare for the worst-case scenarios.
“While we hope and pray that we never experience the horrible acts we saw recently in South Florida, we never take the attitude that it could not happen here,” Russell said.
According to Russell, Public Safety allows rifles, shotguns and archery equipment to be checked into their secure storage facility. They accept any weapon that is able to be legally stored and purchased in Arkansas.
“Our entire reason for providing this service is to encourage weapons to be legally stored in a secure location,” Russell said. “We believe this practice makes campus safer –– especially in a state and community where hunting and recreational shooting sports are so popular.”
Russell said he believes the best thing we do at Harding is emphasize community, one that cares for each other and tries to follow the example of Christ.
“If we can do a better job of noticing when someone is struggling or hurting or simply not thinking in a healthy way, and then we do a better job of helping or getting someone who is able to help –– that will make us a safer community,” Russell said. “It won’t make us a perfect community, but it will make us a safer and better one.”
In response to the Parkland shooting, criminal justice professor and former CIA agent Sam Jeffrey and his company Megiddo Operations are offering a course in Searcy titled “Getting Home: Active Shooter Response for Teenagers.” Jeffrey said the goal of the course is provide students with the skills necessary to survive should they find themselves in a similar situation.
“My thought was, regardless of where people stand … politically, what everybody wants is for their kids to make it home,” Jeffrey said. “I have a background that can teach that. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing.”
The course will be held on Monday, Mar. 12 at the Searcy Performing Arts Center from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The course is designed for junior high and high school students, but Jeffrey said anyone is welcome to attend. Tickets are $20 and seating is limited. For more information, visit Megiddo Operations on Facebook.
Written by Katie West and Bison Staff