Feature
It Can Happen Anywhere

Article by Erin Seccia

Eldridge.JPGThe sound of an air horn echoes through the hallways. Students sit in their classrooms without worry – this is just a drill. No harm will come with the sound of an air horn. The date is October 25th. The time is 9:02 A.M.  Kings High School’s very first active shooter drill has just finished.

This is the new reality.

Back in Time

Let’s go back in time. February 27, 2012. Chardon, Ohio. 7:30 A.M. A 17-year-old male opens fire in the cafeteria of Chardon High School. He’s not a student there. Using a .22 caliber handgun, he manages to shoot six students, killing three of them.

Every student of Señorita Eldridge’s has heard this story. She was not a student at Chardon High School at the time either, but the incident still hit her hard. Valerie Eldridge is a Chardon native, a huge Cavs fan, and an advocate for kindness. On the day of the shooting, Eldridge was teaching away like it was any other day in February.

Memorial.JPG

A photo collage that is hanging up in Valerie Eldridge’s room, commemorating the victims from the fatal shooting at Chardon High School. Photo by Erin Seccia.

Second bell, towards the end of the bell, a student of mine came running into the room, and he’s like ‘Señorita! Señorita! There was a shooting at your school!’ And I looked at him, and I said, ‘Shut up.’ And he goes, ‘No really!’ and I go, ‘Shut up!’ and he goes, ‘No really!’ This was before phones were allowed, kids had phones but they weren’t allowed to have their phones with them during class; they had to stay in their lockers, and people actually followed that rule. So he’s like, ‘Can I show you my phone?’ and I was like, ‘Sure!’ so I looked at it, and his cousin was at Chardon. He was a freshman, and he was actually in the cafeteria where it happened. He showed me the conversation between his cousin and him, and his cousin was like, ‘There’s somebody shooting up our school! It’s like Columbine!’” recollects Eldridge. Even though she wasn’t there, the incident changed her life forever. Every night for a week, Eldridge would see her school on the news.

“We were on CNN. Frau, the German teacher [at Kings] told me that her sister saw it on the news in Germany. It was kind of before school shootings became more of a regular kind of thing; they were still not quite as normal. For a week I saw it on the national news, and every night I’d watch it and something would make me cry.” recalls Eldridge emotionally.

Though tragedies of the like don’t always have to be solemnly relived each year. For the first couple of years, Eldridge didn’t do anything with her class to recollect, she simply wore a shirt commemorating Chardon High School and the victims. About four or five years ago, Eldridge remembered an activity that she had done once in the past. The activity, dubbed by Eldridge the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” activity, is one in which each student gets a piece of paper with the names of each student in their class. The goal: write something positive for each other person in the class. This spinning of a negative event into a positive one is a signature of Valerie Eldridge’s.

Active Shooter Response at Kings

ALICE Training Institute was founded in 2013 by Greg Crane, whose goal was for his wife (an elementary school principal) to have a better plan in case of an active shooter event. Teachers across the country have been involved in ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Active Shooter Response training since. Kings Local School District is no different. Starting in 2013, KLSD began implementing ALICE training for their teachers. Run, Hide, Fight is another type of training that teachers at Kings have gone through. This training style is easier to remember and more flexible than the ALICE training, but both are in place and are meshing together to form an exquisite training program at Kings. ALICE training and Run, Hide, Fight training are both extremely important for schools, because they bring up the option of choice.

“It gives the teachers the opportunity to choose instead of 100% staying locked down in the room, it gives us that choice to leave and get out. It’s good that they taught us to do anything to distract [the shooter].” claims Eldridge.

Though the Chardon shooting occurred before ALICE Training Institute was formed, Chardon High School’s football coach and study hall monitor, Frank Hall, did something that ALICE teaches. He chased the shooter. According to Sports Illustrated, “Frank took off in pursuit and bellowed, ‘Stop!’ Then everything fell silent, the 350-pound coach and the gunman in a tunnel, in a footrace down a 60-yard hallway lined with brown lockers and the most renowned athletes and alumni in the school’s history staring down at them from framed photos. The teenager with a 25-foot head start, the coach with no ligaments left in his right ankle from years of football injuries.” This act of courage threw the gunman off; he wasn’t expecting that.

Through the ALICE training, teachers quickly learned that simply locking down isn’t always the best solution. So-called “sitting ducks” are easy targets for a gunman. It quickly transitioned into fleeing and fighting, if necessary. The only “weapon” that teachers are permitted to have is wasp spray. Art teacher Carrie Cooke keeps a can of wasp spray behind her printer just in case.

“Do you really want to fight a gunman with wasp spray? It’s a scary thought to think that that’s what I have between me, and these kids, and trying to get out safely.” said Cooke.

An additional safety precaution that Kings Local School District has been using since 2014 is the “Barricade”. This device slides underneath the classroom door, and has a steel pin that is inserted through a hole in both the device and the floor itself. This mechanism ensures that the door cannot be opened from the outside, and it can withstand up to 4,800 pounds of external force. According to a broadcast from WCPO, the Barricade was created by a company in northern Ohio in response to the shooting at Chardon High School, and Kings High School got them as soon as they had allocated funding for them.

The Drill

Instead of using blanks, the deputies opted to use an air horn to simulate gunfire. The drill began in the C hallway of the high school building, with knocks on a door to Carrie Cooke’s classroom. Let’s set the scene: In her classroom, there is one door that goes to the outside of the building and another door that connects to the hallway and the rest of the school. Cooke’s husband installed a peephole in the door that goes to the outside so she can avoid opening the door for strangers. It was second bell, Cooke’s plan bell (when she doesn’t have a class) and fellow art teacher Stacy Hoffert was using Cooke’s classroom with her drawing class. All of a sudden, they heard knocks on the outside door. When Hoffert went to see who it was, the peephole was covered. She told whoever it was to “go around.” Kings administrators and one sheriff were conducting the drill, so they simply unlocked the door and walked in. The administrators told Hoffert’s class to “relax”, and then proceeded to conduct the drill.

Leading up to the drill, students were nervous and ready to have it over with. As a teacher, Hoffert was anxious because of her role as the leader in the classroom.

“I was a little nervous because you’re supposed to be a leader for your class, and we don’t know what’s going on. Usually as a teacher, you usually know what’s going on, so it was a little nerve-wracking, thinking ‘When is it going to happen?’” recounts Hoffert.

On scene, there was an estimated 20-30 police officers and other law enforcement who came to the high school to observe the drill. Conducting the drill and acting as the shooter was a sheriff dressed in plain clothes. When the drill began, school resource officer John Downs was in the Junior High School. He made it back down to the high school in less than a minute to get himself in position.

Principal Doug Leist helped to conduct the drill and observed the reactions of his staff and their students.

I thought it went better than expected. It is always difficult trying to simulate an actual real-life drill, but at the same time be sensitive to not want to scare everyone. I was impressed with how everyone took it seriously. We learned a great deal from the experience.” expresses Leist.

Moving Forward

Moving forward, Kings High School plans to implement more active shooter drills. According to Assistant Principal Ron Corradini, “It’s really important to spend some time teaching our teachers [how to respond], and working with them; and also working with our students. I think that if something like that happens, our teachers become the person that students look to, and decisions need to be made. The more you practice it, the more aware you become.”

There are some concerns regarding adding an element of surprise to the upcoming drills. In the incident that there were to be an active shooter drill that the student body was unaware of, Corradini anticipates a flood of parents rushing to the high school after receiving texts or phone calls from their children.

“The school district will try to alert the parents and say ‘Hey, we’re doing this.’ It will be one of those things where they’ll [the district] say ‘In this 10 day period of time, we are going to do an active shooter drill.’ I think they’ll try to do more of a surprise drill to see how people respond.” expresses Corradini.

When They Say, “It Can Happen Anywhere…”

You are no longer safe in your place of education, work, prayer, entertainment, or dining. These locations are vague, yet there are far too many. Since 1999, mass shootings have been on the rise. According to data from shootingtracker.com, 346 mass shootings took place in 2017 alone. As of right now, the United States has seen 308 mass shootings in 2018. These mass shootings have taken place at various locations across the country, further pushing the narrative that “it could happen anywhere.”

Valerie Eldridge would have never expected a school shooting to occur in a place like her hometown of Chardon, Ohio.

“We didn’t lock our house, we didn’t lock our cars; it was one of those places where almost everybody knew everybody. Growing up, we were actually the village of Chardon because we didn’t have 5000 people in our town. I remember when I was in middle school or high school, we officially became a city once we hit 5000! So we’re a small town. Although it sounds so cliché, the expression, ‘it could happen anywhere’ always comes to mind with me, because I never would’ve expected it to happen at Chardon.” recalls Eldridge.

Mass shootings are becoming more of a daily occurrence in the United States. Active shooter drills and prevention training has become state-mandated, so much so that even the Kings elementary schools practice it. The drills practiced by the elementary schools aren’t as intense as those at the high school, yet the haunting reality of gun violence has gone so far that even the youth of America is exposed to it.

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