Grisly sounds and images of school violence began the Cheektowaga Police Department’s town hall forum on the topic Wednesday night in the auditorium of Maryvale High School.
There were wrenching screams in frantic 9-1-1 calls from an office at Columbine High School in April 1999.
Blood-spattered images from the 2006 shooting of 10 girls at the one-room Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster County, Pa.
And the heart-breaking video clips from Sandy Hill Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., now just three months removed.
None was designed as a gratuitous way to “shock” or “upset” the audience, explained Cheektowaga Police Chief David J. Zack, who led the 90-minute presentation. Showing them to the nearly 300 people gathered there served to evoke the feelings people experienced on each of those tragic days.
“We’ve gone from a feeling that ‘It can’t happen here’ to ‘Oh my God, it’s going to happen here,’ ” said Zack, explaining that parents seem to be more nervous than their children nowadays about school safety. In reality, he said, it’s three times more likely their child would be killed by lightning (1 in 1 million) than shot at school (1 in 3 million).
Police said Wednesday’s forum was about tempering that fear and putting it into perspective while also issuing a call to action for parents, students and school staff to be aware of the signs leading up to school violence and let law enforcement know about it.
“These attackers are well-known in the community,” Zack said. “They tell other people what they plan to do.”
Zack said the community plays a vital role in “interrupting an attack.” Attackers, he said, are already “on the radar,” they “discuss their plans,” they “plan in the open,” may have been bullied, had previous attempts at suicide and – the key fact – have “access to weapons.”
“As you look at that list and you start to see these things,” said Zack, “if this is your home, this isn’t a Second Amendment issue; get the guns out of the house.”
Zack played a 9-1-1 call from Columbine that turned out to be the father of Eric Harris, who with Dylan Klebold massacred 13 people and injured 24 others before taking their own lives in the school library.
Said Zack: “His first reaction is not ‘Is my son okay? His first reaction is ‘I think that’s my kid.’ So, what does that tell us?”
His parents and others knew danger was afoot. If authorities had been notified, it’s possible the massacre might have been averted, Zack said, just like more than 120 other plots nationwide foiled in the last three years.
“These shootings in the schools – you can’t eliminate them, but you can certainly reduce them,” he said.
Diane Vanaker is the “first line of defense” at Maryvale High School.
Her desk is yards from the school’s front door. Vanaker, the parent of a Maryvale senior, was impressed to learn of all of the extensive training Cheektowaga Police have completed to keep the school safe.
“It’s nice to know about all of the training that’s going on behind the scenes...so we can be assured to know we’ll be safe,” said Vanaker.
Roseann Devine, the mother of an 8th grader at Maryvale Middle School and a high school junior, was moved by Zack’s call to get involved: “It’s huge. It’s a huge takeaway. They pointed out how many shootings could have been prevented.”
Devine suggested top students also undergo training so they know how they could go to the aid of others if violence were to break out.
Maryvale Superintendent Deborah A. Ziolkowski said the district has been proactive with students through school assemblies and by initiating “Rachel’s Challenge,” a program empowering students.
It was founded by parents of Columbine victim Rachel Joy Scott.
For a replay of a live blog of the event go to blogs.buffalonews.com/live. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org