Montgomery County police increased presence around schools at dismissal time Friday afternoon “for the comfort of the community” following a mass shooting at a Newtown, CT, elementary school. School and police officials, and parents expressed sadness and horror in response to the event.
Susan Burkinshaw, a Germantown mother of three, seemed to express what other parents were feeling at the news that a gunman shot and killed 20 children Friday morning:
"I have been crying listening to WTOP all day. I finally had to turn the news off. Can't wait to get home from work to hug my kids."
Police Chief Thomas Manger spoke with Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, said police spokesman Capt. Paul Starks.
“Although there’s been nothing, no information, nothing to indicate anything like what happened in Newtown, CT, would happen in Montgomery County this afternoon, officers have been instructed to have an increased presence around schools at dismissal time – which is now essentially over – for the comfort of the community,” Starks told Patch late Friday afternoon.
Starks said that a uniformed officer in a marked car would be visible at many schools throughout the county, either on campus or adjacent to the school, “so students as well as parents who pick them up can see them.”
Montgomery County Public Schools was following the situation in Connecticut Friday afternoon, but did not heighten security in county schools, according to MCPS spokesperson Gboyinde Onijala.
"We aren't commenting on the specific case of what's going on in Connecticut," Onijala said. "We are monitoring the situation. All of our schools have emergency policies they will follow should the need arise."
Burkinshaw said she believes Montgomery County schools are safe. Burkinshaw has three children—a daughter in sixth grade at Kingsview Middle School and two sons at Northwest High School.
"I personally believe my kids are safest when they are at school in MCPS buildings than anywhere else, including home," she said. "In times of emergency I am happy that they are in those buildings where I know they are safe. Tragedies like this could have just as easily, if not more easily, happened at any place of work--a grocery store, etc. I am just sickened at the fact that so many innocent children were lost in this event."
Depending on the severity of an incident, parents may be notified through direct messages, emails, phone calls or letters home from principals of their students' school. MCPS emergency procedures can be found online.
For school administrators, safety and security is always front of mind, said Walter Johnson High School Principal Jennifer Baker.
Staff there meet weekly to discuss the security of the building and “anything else we might be able to do to enhance security here at school.”
Like at other county schools, students at WJ regularly practice security drills.
“We practice lockdowns and sheltering in place, and through that repetition and that practice we help our students see we take safety and security very seriously,” Baker said. “It’s very important in the practice situations that they listen, that they follow directions, and they look to adults to help them.”
“Kids need to learn in an environment where they feel secure and we take that very seriously,” Baker continued. “Our hearts and souls go out to the families in Connecticut-- all of the families , those that lost their loved ones and also children that were exposed to just a horrible, terrible event.”
Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen issued the following statement on the shootings:
“My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families of this tragedy. The entire nation stands with the community of Newtown. Today is a day for mourning and prayer, but we must immediately get to work to end these senseless, mass killings of innocent Americans. Together, we must act now to stop the carnage.”
With reporting by Tiffany Arnold and Laura Thornton.