With the new year barely underway, threats, violence and weapons scares at a number of metro schools have summoned additional cops to area campuses.
Authorities have made arrests following incidents in Cobb and DeKalb counties, a student faces discipline after accidentally injuring a classmate with a pellet gun in Gwinnett County and a number of schools have gone into cautionary lockdown mode.
“It is always our priority to ensure the safety of our students and staff,” read a letter sent to parents this week at Wynbrooke Elementary School in Stone Mountain, which took preventative measures upon word of an emergency situtation at nearby Stephenson High School.
“We are doing everything possible to keep your student safe,” read a letter sent to Walter High School parents after a student kicked and threatened administrators at the east Cobb school.
Many campuses already have school resource officers. Recent events, including rumors, threats and actual incidents, have meant temporarily stepping up police presence or limiting access at some school buildings.
The robust measures can be alternately comforting and rattling.
Walton parent Billy Phenix gave the school high marks for how officials handled things after a student came into class carrying alcohol and under the influence, then became violent.
Ty William Holder, 17, threatened to “get a gun and come back and kill everyone,” an arrest warrant says. He was booked into the Cobb jail after the Aug. 6 episode, then released on a $10,000 bond, according to booking records. A statement from the school didn’t give many specifics, but assured parents that the “situation has been resolved and the student involved is in the care of medical professionals.”
“Parents are insatiable for details, many of which administrators cannot legally supply” when such cases spark news headlines, Phenix said. “I know they had security procedures in place beforehand and have beefed them up. It isn’t a perfect system but it is far from deficient. We love our school, Walton administration, and most of us have no idea how complex it is what they do. It’s so easy to be an armchair administrator.”
A “code red” drill held days after the incident left Walton sophomore Emily Ross stuck in a hallway and panicking. She’d been in the nurse’s office when the drill began. Following protocol, no one opened her classroom door despite her pounding.
“This is not normal. Do not mistake our calm attitude about these shootings as a sign we’re okay,” Ross wrote afterward in a guest column for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We’re all hiding our invisible wounds inflicted during an implausible event.”
School violence affects students nationwide, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A 2017 nationwide survey found that about 6% of students had been threatened or injured with a weapon on campus at least during the previous year, the CDC says. About 7% of students had missed at least one school during the previous month because they felt they would be unsafe on campus or while traveling to and from school.
Recent events underscore the need for strong school safety plans.
Sprayberry High School in Cobb County went on lockdown for about an hour Friday after a man was spotted on school grounds carrying a loaded Glock, a knife and a bottle of whiskey.
Daniel Ryan Caudell, 45, was charged with possession of weapon or explosive compound in or near a school, school function or school bus (a felony); and alcohol possession on school grounds (a misdemeanor), according to booking records. It’s not clear why he was on school property and the incident remains under investigation. The school’s principal notified parents of the incident, a school district spokesperson said.
The day of Caudell’s arrest, a student at Gwinnett County’s Creekland Middle School student was showing off a pellet gun in class when it discharged, ricocheting and hitting another student, principal Kimberly Birds said. Parents were informed of the incident on Monday; the student faces discipline.
In DeKalb this week, a student’s report of seeing a classmate with a gun sparked a lockdown and swift response from police at Stephenson High School. A sweep of the school found no such weapon. A juvenile was arrested following the incident, but officials haven’t released details about the suspect or the charges.
District officials said parents were alerted via text and email before a public statement was released. Many parents said they learned what was happening when their children texted them.
“The SWAT team busted in and pointed a gun around the room,” student Xavier McArn told his mother, Nanette Wright, in a text message. “When there was no threat we were told to stay on the floor.”
Another student, Savi’on Brooks-Auburt, said he thought it was another drill until officers entered his classroom with guns drawn.
“I just prayed about it,” he said. “Then I had to let it be in (God’s) hands and go about the day.”
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