State College

When is too young to start preparing children for active shooter situations?

State College police Capt. Matt Wilson speaks during a gun violence town hall Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the State College Municipal Building.
State College police Capt. Matt Wilson speaks during a gun violence town hall Saturday, April 7, 2018 at the State College Municipal Building. psheehan@centredaily.com

As community members gathered at the Municipal Building on Saturday afternoon for a panel discussion on gun violence, one issue dominated the conversation — when is too young to start preparing children for active shooter situations?

The panel, which consisted of State High student activists, members from Moms Demand Action, a State College police captain and a mental health specialist, was convened as part of the nationwide Day of Town Halls, coordinated by organizers of March for Our Lives.

“Having kids subjected to that can be scary, but at the same time, I’d like to know that my teachers and peers could get to a point that we’re more level-headed if the situation would occur,” State High sophomore Kyra Gines said in response to a community member concerned about the stress an active shooter drill could have on students. “I’d like to know that the school is actively doing something to prepare — it almost puts more stress of the child to see on the news a bunch of kids got gunned down because they didn’t know how to respond.”

The question was in reference to an active shooter drill last week at a State College Area Middle School, intended to be a “pilot” for other schools.

“It was my police department that did the active shooter training,” State College police Capt. Matt Wilson said. “We’ve been really proactive on this since Columbine, because that created paradigm change in law enforcement in schools. It can happen here.”

He said the decision to hold the active shooter training was made in conjunction with the school district and they had no plans to hold any sort of training for any students below the middle school level.

Wilson also said that although this was the first of such trainings they have held with students, State College police have conducted training with school faculty and staff.

“We’ve even gone to the point of firing blanks in the schools (not while students are there) so they can hear what it sounds like,” he said. “They have to be mentally prepared.”

Wilson said that it’s important that faculty and staff are prepared for such situations, so if something does happen, they are able to comprehend what’s happening and react. The training, he said, paid off a few months ago when a potential intruder situation arose at Easterly Parkway Elementary.

On Feb. 23, a man, who was later found to have been under the influence of controlled substances and hallucinating about a shooting and people chasing him, attempted to gain access to the school through the main entrance, but was stopped due to the security measures put in place, and by quick thinking of the school’s secretaries and staff.

“When you look back at what it ultimately turned out to be, you could say they overreacted, and some children were a little bit upset as a result of what they were initially told, but people reacted,” Wilson said. “So if it does happen, they know what they’re doing. It turned out not to be that bad, but that’s what it’s about, being mentally prepared.”

SeriaShia Chatters, an assistant professor of councilor education at Penn State and mother of young children, said that it’s not a bad idea to start talking to your kids about how to get out of dangerous situations at a young age.

“As a parent, I often encourage other parents, when you’re sitting in mall food court, to ask their kids: ‘If we had to get out of here fast, where would you go?’ When kids get into that situation, it doesn’t have to be the first time they’re thought about it,” she said.

“Unfortunately, this is the reality we’re living in now.”

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