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Parents flocked to Eggert Elementary School in Orchard Park on Friday for the annual Christmas concert, but they found themselves grappling with a national tragedy that undoubtedly hit home.

“You’re not safe anywhere, I guess,” said Sarah Malburg, who was picking up her two-year-old son. “It’s gotten kind of sad. You just can’t [even] go to school.”

Parents at schools in Orchard Park and West Seneca called the Connecticut shooting “alarming,” and Malburg said she “cried my eyes out” when she flicked on the television set and saw the news.

“You just send your child to school and you think they’re safe,” said Judith Toomey, who watched her granddaughter on the playground of Allendale elementary in West Seneca. “It’s very hard for children of that age to talk about something like that.”

“They shouldn’t have to think about something like that,” she added, holding back tears.

One teacher at Eggert Elementary reportedly ushered her students away from the window just in case, a parent said. Overall, though, the parents said they believe the schools are safe – much safer than when the Columbine tragedy hit 14 years ago.

At Eggert Elementary, parents picking their children up Friday afternoon had to buzz into an intercom system before the main doors were unlocked.

Even Malburg’s husband, Andy, who knows many of the teachers and secretaries at the school, is questioned at the front desk when he comes to pick up his children.

“The schools are doing everything they can and more,” said Sean Croft, who was picking up his daughters from the school Friday afternoon.

Croft works as an administrator in the Starpoint district in Niagara County. He said schools throughout the region have transformed their security procedures since the Columbine massacre.

The simple fact is, parents say, anything short of complete airport-style security with frisking and metal detectors leaves an opportunity for an acquaintance like the Connecticut shooter to enter schools and open fire.

The real problem to be addressed, Croft said, is how society deals with distressed individuals and those with mental illnesses.

“There’s still kind of this stigma,” he said. “[We need to] keep our eyes out for our family members, our friends that are struggling, who may act bizarre. We can help them.”

When the Columbine shooters killed 13 people in 1999, the nation was surprised and outraged, parents said.

But with two other recent high-profile shootings – one at an Oregon shopping mall and another involving a pro football player – it’s clear the world has changed even since they, they said.

“Nowadays, people don’t think twice about it,” said Shannon McDonald, who brought her kids to the West Seneca playground on Friday.

After learning of the Connecticut shooting, the Buffalo mother was then tasked with explaining the tragedy to her two young children.

“Fortunately, I’ve never had to explain anything like this to them,” McDonald said. “What do you tell them?”

email: cspecht@buffnews.com