Police, Schools Increase Vigilance on Campuses After CT Tragedy
With an emphasis on "safety and vigilance" for Moore County students and staff, the Moore County school system's police force was present at each of the county's 23 campuses this week in the wake of last week's shooting tragedy in Connecticut.
Moore County Schools Chief of Police Sammy McNeill said that anxiety levels seemed to be low among students, but officials wanted to "ease parents' minds" that security was in place.
"We wanted to make sure our school resource officers were on- site and visible to give both parents and children a greater sense of security," McNeill said. "Officers are always assigned to the middle schools and high schools, and they have a daily presence on all our other campuses as well."
Officials sent letters home with students on Monday to remind them of the schools' policies and procedures for safety.
The letters arrived at the end of a day marked by wild rumors that may reflect anxiety in some students' minds. One occurrence involved a tweet that read "a handgun" may be present on one school campus on Monday. Another alleged incident stated that a student burst a balloon during a school assembly, prompting nearby police officers to enter "with hands on their (holstered) weapons," according to one source.
"We take all of these rumors seriously, and all are investigated thoroughly," said school spokesman Tim Lussier. "We found the source of the tweet and we dealt with the situation. There has been nothing to present any danger to our students."
In his letter to parents, Schools Superintendent Aaron Spence wrote that the system "joins the nation in mourning the senseless tragedy and loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of those impacted by this unimaginable event."
"Our students, parents and staff need to know that we will continue to increase and expand our efforts in this area," he wrote. "School resource officers will continue to visit all schools to ensure that they are secure. Our principals are all aware of the need to adhere with strict fidelity to our existing expectations for visitor management and school security, and we will be reviewing these expectations in light of this tragedy.
"Parents entrust their children to us and expect that we provide a secure environment, and it is our intention to do that every minute of every day."
Other agency officials have offered their input in light of the school shootings.
Daniel Brown, the chief clinical officer at the Monarch agency in Southern Pines, said that a range of emotions is normal following a disaster and that they should not be ignored.
"It is very common to feel anxious about your own safety and that of your loved ones following a horrific tragedy or major, nationally broadcasted tragedy, especially one that involves children," Brown said. "We are often fearful as disturbing images are repeatedly broadcast. Just as often as we see it, it can play over and over in our minds the same way. That imagery can cause anxiety, distress and strong reactions for adults and children alike."
Brown encouraged everyone to employ the following suggestions "to help adults, parents and children to appropriately explore ways to manage, maintain and restore normalcy following a catastrophe or personal trauma."
These include engaging/ talking to others about the tragedy, distracting oneself or others from the issue, and shutting off the television.
"Today's media coverage of tragic events like this can in and of itself cause strong emotional reactions for both children and adults," Brown said.
Other suggestions include spending time with loved ones, leaning on one's faith, and contacting a professional.
Brown said that recognizing your own or another's feelings following a tragic event can be beneficial as well.
"How you're feeling (is) natural," he said. "Realize that any anxiety, sadness, anger or distress you are feeling, no matter how many miles between you and any tragedy, is a natural reaction."
Lussier said that "all senior staff" visited many school campuses in the system on Monday.
"There have been many questions, but for the most part anxiety levels are not high, and we haven't heard of anything out of the ordinary," he said. "People can be reassured that Moore County has good, safe schools with an excellent police force. Principals and staff are very aware of school safety issues and procedures, and drills and training exercises in that regard are regularly performed."
Spence said that the community must show the children of Moore County that they are "loved."
"We must wrap our collective arms around the children of our community and remind them that we love them with all our heart and will continue to care for them" Spence wrote. "I have no doubt that we will continue to struggle to understand this tragedy.
"Anxiety and anger will be a natural part of this struggle for many of us. Please know that we will have counselors available to talk with our students about these feelings as needed."
Local churches paid tribute to the shooting victims in the Newtown, Conn., tragedy on Sunday in words, song and displays.
Rebekah Day sent several photos to The Pilot from the Children's Christmas program at Page Memorial United Methodist Church in Aberdeen.
"The children performed 'The Secret of Snowflake County' and on the altar was a chain of 20 paper doll angels in memory of the victims of Friday's tragic events in Connecticut," Day said. "Pastor Jane Leechford lit a candle in memory of the victims.
"There was a angel for each child with a name, date of birth, and Friday's date. It made such a beautiful memorial, several people thought that we should share it with you. The angels will remain in the sanctuary until next Sunday, and then we plan to send them to the Newtown United Methodist Church."
At other churches around Moore County, choirs sang and dedicated special holiday songs to the children, and ministers delivered sermons around the events from Friday.
Contact John Lentz at (910) 693-2479 or jlentz@thepilot. com.
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