The school shooting in Newtown, Conn., Friday morning reverberated across East Greenwich throughout the day, particularly among the school administrators and police whose job it is to keep students safe.
"It hits you from all angles," said Eldredge Elementary School Principal Dominic Giuisti late Friday afternoon, referring to his roles as father, educator, and school administrator.
"It’s beyond horrific. It’s absolutely an incredible tradegy," said Supt. Victor Mercurio.
According to reports, a 20-year-old man forced his way the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, past the buzzer security system in place, and killed the principal and school psychologist and more than two dozen others, including 20 children. The gunman then committeed suicide. [Ed. Note: The above paragraph has been updated since it was originally posted.]
Initial information suggested the gunman may have been known to people in the front office and that was what Giuisti was thinking about.
"You think about the safety precautions ... 95 percent of the people we buzz in we know," he said. Eldredge and the other five district schools now have buzzer systems at their entrances, a legacy of the Columbine schootings in 1999. Once a person is in the building, they are supposed to check in at the front office before proceeding and to get a badge signalling they have permission to be in the building.
Giuisti also talked about the changes in preparedness over the years.
"Ten years ago, it was 'lockdown.' Now it's 'lockdown or evacuate if you should.'" he said.
One problem, Giuisti said, was who would make that decision, especially if, as appears to have been the case in Newtown, the shooter first kills those in charge.
"It makes you go back to your plan," he said. "You try to plan for all of those scenarios."
Giuisti said he'd been talking with the principals of the other three elementary schools throughout the afternoon. He sent a letter out to Eldredge parents and said he thought the other principals were doing the same. Giuiti's letter is reprinted below.
He said he planned to meet with the staff Monday morning and would possibly be talking to them over the weekend, via conference call.
Police Chief Tom Coyle said his force prepares for this sort of incident. "We do trainings throughout the year, unfortunately for events like this," he said. "We train all year long."
Juvenile Officer John Carter said state law dictates each school have 15 drills a year, including two lockdown drills and two evacuation drills. Evacuation drills are different from fire drills, Carter said, because the children were taken to a safer location, rather than lined up outside the building.
Four of the drills involve dealing with some area of the school that's blocked off, because of fire or some other threat, he said.
In the wake of the shooting, said Supt. Mercurio, "We’ll take a look at all procedures."
Message from Superintendent Dr. Mercurio:
While our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families in Newtown, Connecticut, please rest assured that student safety remains our top priority. We will continue to review appropriate safety protocols and procedures. In the upcoming days, in the same manner that we have done so in the past, we will continue to work with local authorities to maintain a vigilant watch and focus to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, and staff in all buildings throughout the district. Should any parent/guardian have individual specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact your child’s respective school.
From Eledredge Principal Dominic Giuisti:
Dear Eldredge Families,
I'm sure by this point in the evening you have all heard about the school tragedy that occurred this morning in Connecticut. As both a school administrator and a parent of three children, I cannot imagine a worse nightmare.
I want you all to know that the safety of your children is always our primary concern here at the James H. Eldredge Elementary School. We have specific policies and procedures in place to deal with a host of emergency situations in accordance with state and district policies.
Due to the age of our population, at this point in time, I am leaving it up to individual families to decide how much they wish to share and discuss with the students. I would be happy to speak with individual students should you feel that a reassurance from me about school safety would be beneficial. I would encourage you to ask your children to keep discussions private, as some parents may choose to share more than others at their discretion.
Tim Dwyer, our school psychologist, and Nina Mackta, our school social worker, are also available to speak with parents and students upon request. Please do not hesitate to reach out to any of us.
Domenic M. Giuisti