School Violence: When the Unthinkable Happens Here
School Violence: When the Unthinkable Happens Here
By: Hali Cartee
It was a typical chilly, December morning. It was a Thursday. Students were in their classrooms listening to the morning announcements, counting down the last four days before winter recess was to begin.
Then just before 8 a.m. an emergency call notified local law enforcement and Richmond Community Schools (RCS) that a person, a teenager, was on his way to one of Richmond’s schools to harm others. There were reports that the suspect could either go to Richmond High School or to Dennis Intermediate School, both located on the city’s west side.
Matthew Cain, B.S. in General Studies ’01, is the director of the Wayne County Emergency Management Agency (EMA). He was in the Chicago O’Hare International Airport when an employee texted him to let him know that an active shooter situation was happening at Dennis.
The agency oversees the 9-1-1 dispatch and emergency management services for the county.
Cain was getting ready to fly home when he received the text, “An active shooter at Dennis.” He said his first thought on reading the text was similar to the initial reaction of others when they first heard about the incident.
“I thought, like everybody, ‘Oh, surely not,’” Cain said. “But I managed to log into our system from my cell phone and saw that it was indeed an active shooter, or active assailant, incident.”
There were five dispatchers in the center that morning, he said, including Ghea (Kennedy) Chamberlain, A.S. in Criminal Justice ’06.
The dispatch center was well in-hand with 9-1-1 deputy director Thomas Koorsen. Cain works with two deputy directors, Koorsen and Jon Duke, who is on the EMA side of the center.
The dispatchers quickly made calls to each school’s administrator and resource officer to put the buildings on alert.
Soon all the schools would be on lockdown – with classroom doors locked, lights out, not a sound to be made.
Indiana University Police Department – East Chief Scott Dunning was on duty when he tuned in to scanner traffic and heard that local law enforcement was on the lookout for an armed individual headed to a Richmond school. He was in his patrol vehicle, parked on campus.
“One thing that we do, and we tell our officers to do, is to listen to surrounding agencies so we can hear if there is anything going on around or near our campus that we need to be aware of,” Dunning said. “I happened to overhear the radio traffic that was being dispatched from Wayne County and Richmond in reference to the subject who happened to state that he was going to kill some people or shoot up the school.”
Dunning went into action. He is a first responder with extensive training in active shooter/active aggressor scenarios. For the IUPD system, Dunning is one of the leading firearms and patrol riffle instructors. He is also a leading active aggressor instructor for the state.
Once Dunning heard the call, he headed to the front entrance of the IU East campus. The entrance is located on U.S. 27, just a little more than four miles – and a 10-minute drive – from either Richmond High School or Dennis Intermediate School. Dennis is one of two middle schools in the RCS system, serving students in grades 5-8.
Dunning didn’t know the direction the suspect was traveling, but he did have a vehicle description.
“I went ahead and suited up and put on my gear,” Dunning said. “There were conflicting reports on if the suspect was going to go to Richmond High School or if he was going to go to Dennis Intermediate School, they didn’t know which school he was going to go to. Most thought more than likely that he was going to go to the high school.”
While Dunning was driving toward the high school, an update came across the scanner. Officers observed the suspect near Dennis. “When I overheard on the radio that some officers believed that they had seen him near the area of Dennis, I immediately informed IUPD dispatch that I was going to switch over frequencies and head that direction, not knowing what we had, or the report of how many weapons he had,” Dunning recalled.
An officer with IUPD since 1995, Dunning felt prepared for what could happen once he reached the school.
“In all my years in law enforcement, I’ve trained for these kinds of incidents so it was something I didn’t even think about doing. I just did it,” Dunning said.
Once at Dennis, Dunning joined law enforcement officers already engaged with the suspect.
The suspect had gained entry at the north end of the school by shooting through the glass on the door.
Dunning climbed through the window and joined a team of Richmond Police Department (RPD) officers and Wayne County Sheriff's Department (WCSD) deputies. “You could hear shots being fired and communication going on down the hallway in the south end (of the building). I had a clear view of them engaging with the subject on the south stairwell,” Dunning said.
When Dunning entered the building, he could hear gunshots being fired. But he – and so many other law enforcement officers – went in anyway.
“That’s my job. That’s what I do,” he said.
Jeff Cappa, A.S. in Criminal Justice '98, was the sheriff for the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department the day of the incident. Currently, he serves as the manager of security for Reid Health.
Cappa was in the north stairwell. So was then sheriff-elect, Lt. Randy Retter. Cappa’s term would end on December 31 after serving the maximum two terms. Retter took over as sheriff of Wayne County on January 1, 2019.
Cappa said he was notified of the active shooter by a deputy while at work in his office. He, along with his Chief Deputy Mike Frame, A.S. in Criminal Justice ’87, responded immediately to Dennis. Frame is now retired.
After he received the notification, Cappa and Frame drove to Dennis. The school is located less than one mile from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.
“As I was responding I was listening to what we refer to as radio traffic, the officers on scene talking about what the situation was, where they believe the suspect was, and that shots were being fired,” Cappa said. Once there, Cappa joined the officers already in the school. One of the three commanding officers on scene, he established a perimeter.
“During the time of the incident, as the head of the sheriff’s office, I was thinking about the safety of the staff and the students who were in the building and their welfare, also the welfare of the first responders and emergency responders who were there on the scene,” he said.
While responding to the incident, Cappa was also thinking of his family. His grandson is a student at Dennis. His son, Brandon Cappa, B.S. in General Studies ’05, is a member of the RPD SWAT team and was in pursuit of the suspect.
“I had more of a personal stake in this situation,” Cappa said.
On the opposite end of the building, in the south hallway, was Neal VanMiddlesworth, A.S. in Business ’00. He is a detective with the RPD Juvenile Division.
VanMiddlesworth was in the first group of officers that followed the active shooter into the school.
With another officer, VanMiddlesworth went to the top of the staircase and moved down the hallway toward the suspect. “The sound of gun shots in a school is exactly how you would imagine. It's a deep, rolling sound.” VanMiddlesworth said.
VanMiddlesworth said his paternal instincts – and training for this type of incident – took over. While he doesn’t have children at Dennis, his does have children in in the RCS system.
“Those are our kids,” VanMiddlesworth said. “You feel a bond with these kids and you just have this need to protect them.”
Every officer there, you saw a somber look on their face, he said.
The classrooms lining the hallways were dark. It was silent but for the hollow sound of gunfire.
Leigh Anne Ernst, B.S. in Secondary Education ’13, is an eighth-grade teacher at Dennis. She teaches Early College students in English and social studies.
Ernst was with her group of students, behind a locked door, lights off, and not more than a whisper and the comfort they could give shared between them.
That morning, Ernst had nine students in her room. It wasn’t until the main office made a second call over the loudspeaker that the room was on lockdown. Ernst said her class hadn’t heard the first call.
When the class realized that they were on lockdown, Ernst and her students went into action. They did what they had trained to do.
The door was locked. The lights off.
Confused if this was a drill or real, her students were immediately on their cellphones, checking social media to see if they could find out what was going on. They messaged their parents, siblings and friends.
What they found by reading social media was confusion. The rumors were quickly flying. Details were scattered.
And then came the realization that this was not a drill. It was all too real.
Dunning recalled the team of officers from the north hall making their way up the stairwell, believing they would meet up with the suspect.
“Discussion occurred that we may be in an area that was not safe, because of friendly fire or crossfire, so we quickly came down a level so we would not be hit by rounds if they were coming in our direction,” Dunning said. “So, we locked in place waiting on the next move. The officers in the south stairwell were confronting the subject and had him in that area - so we didn’t know what our next move was going to be.”
It was then the officers made the call that the subject was down. He had turned a gun on himself.
“Once we confirm that the subject is down, we still don’t know if the scene is safe,” Dunning said. “We don’t know what’s going on. You never know in any active shooter or active aggressor situation; you don’t know what’s going to come next or if there’s any detonations or anything like that.”
The next step was for officers to go room to room, making sure that everyone in the building was unharmed. That they were safe. No one – students, staff or law enforcement officers – received injuries related to the incident.
RPD and the sheriff's department did a fabulous job. They went in teams and made sure each classroom was safe.
“RPD and the sheriff’s department did a fabulous job,” Dunning said. “They went in teams and made sure each classroom was safe. They informed the teachers who were in the rooms that they were safe, but to stay locked down, and that we would be back to get them.”
From the perspective of those in the classroom, the entrance from law enforcement officers was jarring, but welcomed.
Cappa said once the incident was over, the departments followed the protocols they had in place and a Command Center was established at the school. He added both the RPD and sheriff’s department command officers met and determined to hand the investigation over to the Indiana State Patrol (ISP) because both departments had officers involved, and handing over the investigation, in that situation, is standard protocol.
“At that point, we worked very closely with RCS and the commanders of all the emergency responding agencies that were there to start coordinating the investigation and the evacuation of the building,” Cappa said.
The incident is estimated to have lasted about 15 minutes from when the emergency dispatch received the telephone call to culminating at Dennis. RPD has said the incident with the active shooter in the school lasted 3 minutes.
It would take hours to reunify students with their parents and for teachers and staff to go home to be with their loved ones.
Bridget Hazelbaker, B.S. in General Studies ’06, is the communications coordinator for RCS, a position she has held for nine years. Her role that day was to provide the messages to parents, teachers, staff, students, and the community through the district’s notification system and social media platforms on Facebook and Twitter.
As the communications coordinator, Hazelbaker’s responsibilities include serving as the spokesperson for RCS. She also fields media requests.
“During the day’s events, I had to keep my ‘game face’ on,” Hazelbaker said. “I had to keep my voice steady for parents when sending out the emergency messages. I needed to keep my messages brief, yet informative. I needed to keep parents, community members, staff, teachers, and the media updated with any new information.”
Hazelbaker was responsible for handling the deluge of calls from the community and from local, state and national media. Calls came from the New York Times, Fox News (NYC), Fox News (Chicago), CBS News (NYC), ABC News (NYC), NBC News (NYC), CNN (Atlanta), NPR, the Washington Post, and numerous media outlets from Indianapolis, Dayton, Cincinnati and Fort Wayne, she said.
One of her priorities following the incident was to message parents about the reunification process. Parents and guardians were to go to Civic Hall where they would wait to meet with their children before they could be comforted and go home.
The process took time.
Once it was determined by law enforcement officers the school was secure, the Dennis and RCS administration worked with the ISP and local law enforcement agencies to organize the transportation of students to the high school for reunification with their parents.
Dunning said law enforcement officers were asked to assist with moving students from the front entrance to the busses.
“I went to the east side of the school, where the main entrance is and assisted with escorting the kids out,” Dunning said. “This let the kids see the officers there, and they could feel safe. We got them to the school busses where they needed to go.”
Cappa said students were extremely relieved to see law enforcement officers helping to escort them from the building. Many thanked him, and the other officers there, as they exited the building.
“I think they felt at ease knowing the officers were there to keep them safe,” Cappa said. “The pride I take in those students and teachers, and the officers responding to that scene, I don’t think I’ll experience that again.”
The students moved from the school to the busses. Parents lined the sidewalks wanting to see their children.
The reunification process lasted until late after-noon. Attendance for every student was taken before they left the building and when they arrived at the Tiernan Center at the high school. Parent’s identifications were cross-referenced with their children’s filed paperwork.
Hazelbaker is a mother with children in the school district, and who had children graduate from RHS. She is also an alumna of RHS.
As a parent, and as an employee, the effects of the day were intensely felt.
“I cried, and I cried a lot,” Hazelbaker said. “I had been trying to stay so strong and it hit me so hard about what could have happened. We were so fortunate. It could have been so much worse.”
By the time every student was reunified with their parent, teachers and staff were ready to be with their families as well.
“We held our kids. We hugged our staff. We cried with our parents. We are a family,” Hazelbaker said. “We offered so many support services for our students, teachers and parents. We had over 120 community partners and businesses who donated services to help our Dennis family.”
I had been trying to stay so strong and it hit me so hard about what could have happened. We were so fortunate. It could have been so much worse.
Emotions were high across the community that day, especially for those directly involved. The aftermath was a toil of heavy discussions about what happened, how and why. People were trying to sort out the rumor from the truth.
And they were trying to come to grips with the reality that school violence – an active shooter – happened here.
“We were emotional after that (when the incident was over),” VanMiddlesworth said. “It resonates with you in a totally different way.”
Without the emergency call, the quick move to act, or without decisive decision-making, the outcome could have been so much worse.
“You’re never prepared for it,” Cappa said. “We’ve been training for years for an active shooter. We’ve always said it’s not a matter of if, it’s when. I think the training law enforcement has done in the last few years – and the training the school has done – lead to a successful outcome.”
When, not if
Hazelbaker said the RCS district practices with many types of drills to prepare for an active shooter or active aggressor. The district sends staff to Safety School and develops policies and procedures to help protect students and staff.
10 years ago, less than 10 percent of officers carried the Stop the Bleed Kits, but that has grown to 70-80 percent of enforcement officers having some sort of emergency kit or tourniquet with them.
When RPD Detective Patrick Tudor, B.S. in Criminal Justice ’95, heard about the incident at Dennis, he was standing in the lobby at Northeastern High School. He verified the information through the department’s official website. Off duty at the time, Tudor immediately left for his home near the high school to get his police unit (gear) before responding to the incident at Dennis.
“When I arrived at the situation, because of the time it took me to drive home and to get my unit and to get there, it had for the most part been neutralized. So at that point, we just had to switch roles as a law enforcement agency to begin to do secondary searches and then transition to removing students, faculty and staff from the school,” Tudor said.
The role was a familiar one to Tudor. In addition to serving as a detective with the investigative services division, he is also the firearms instructor for the RPD. He schedules the active shooter/active threat trainings held each month one year in advance. Following the incident at Dennis, RPD was already booked for a three-day active shooter training at Pleasant View, a former elementary school for RCS.
“There were close to 180 police officers from Wayne County, Connersville, Union County, Union City, and IU East that had all come to either participate or to observe (the training),” Tudor said.
Law enforcement officers have trained for an active shooter since 2002, he added.
In the nearly two decades of training, some aspects of the procedures have remained the same. But there have been improvements and changes including how officers respond to an active aggressor; how officers park their vehicles to allow for additional backup and emergency service vehicles; and many officers are now carrying Stop the Bleed Kits equipped with an emergency tourniquet and first-aid materials.
Tudor said that 10 years ago, fewer than 10 percent of officers carried the Stop the Bleed Kits, but that has grown to 70-80 percent of enforcement officers having some sort of emergency kit or tourniquet with them. While an officer's first priority is to stop the active aggressor, they are also the first to come into contact with victims.
“For us, it’s always training and trying to be as best prepared as we can be for these situations at all levels, whether it’s the initial response, neutralizing the threat, doing secondary searches, removing personnel, rendering first aid, or helping with the reunification process,” Tudor said. “That is what I feel our role and responsibility is, to just make sure we’re properly equipped and trained to keep the community safe.”
It’s too great of a risk not to have those protocols, policies and procedures in place, and to rehearse and train it, so that when it does happen that you have some level of preparedness for it,” Tudor said. “When you train it, it becomes instinctive.”
Once an incident is over – or a training exercise for an active aggressor scenario – agencies will conduct an after action review to determine what went wrong, what went right, and where improvements could be made to policies or procedures.
“I think because you have so many different people involved at different levels, everybody is going to respond differently,” Tudor said. “I know from a law enforcement standpoint, we try to look at things we did well that day and the things that we can continue to improve on, if there is anything. Obviously that situation, and we know this to be true in most situations that occur when there is an active shooter, that you’re going to have law enforcement agencies from all over the area responding. It’s important for us to train together.”
Cappa said after incident reviews are taken seriously with a thorough evaluation.
We always take a critique to look at what we could do better, what went right, what didn’t, are there training needs, a need for equipment, where we could improve,” Cappa said. “We use it to our advantage to correct what we feel are deficiencies but to also improve upon those things that we did right so we’re always ready for the next one, if it happens.”
For law enforcement - and now for schools, businesses and other organizations - preparation and response has to be practiced, reviewed and practiced again.
The connection and communication between the law enforcement departments and school districts is imperative as well.
Cappa gave credit to RCS and its administrators, but also to Rick Thalls, Sr., the school’s resource officer through the WCSD.
Officer Thalls has for years been working on plans with the RCS administration for this particular scenario,” Cappa said. “We have always said it’s not a matter of if, but when. I think that the preparation and Rick being the driving leadership in that, is what helped minimize the amount of loss that we experienced that day. The training that local law enforcement has done in this area for the last several years also contributed to the success of the outcome on that particular day.”
The EMA office also conducts an after action review.
Cain said the EMA makes sure its agency did everything that could have been done, and like other departments, that they learn from the incident on what went right and how they could have done things differently, if possible. He said it’s a continual process.
“That’s how we have moved forward,” Cain said. “Our employees have access to the assistance program if they need it or additional support or counseling. But other than that, that’s what our profession does (moves forward). We pull ourselves together, and we get ready to answer the next phone call, because the phone is always ringing.”
One way that Cain helped his staff that day was to bring in a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team to help process what had happened during the incident and for any follow-up care in the days to come.
Cain noted one of the dispatchers working that morning was married to an officer who was in the first group of officers to pursue the suspect at Dennis.
“Not only do they have a professional role, that affected her personally as well,” Cain said. “She feared for her husband’s life when he arrived at the scene. Obviously, we were distraught over the outcome for the child involved, but my focus then turned to my employees. There is a lot of talk right now, especially in the telecommunicator profession, about the effects of all the stress and the mental anguish that dispatchers go through on a regular basis, and then when you have an event like this, my focus immediately turned toward my employees for them mentally and physically. We offered them breaks or opportunities to get away from the radio and phones for a while.”
Dunning agreed reviews are imperative.
“No matter what kind of incident, you need to do a review. It’s a learning experience no matter what,” Dunning said. “You can never stop learning in life, you just can’t do it, especially in our jobs. As long as we learn from incidents, we’ll only get better. How everybody responded and the response from all of the emergency personnel, the school, everybody, was just overwhelming. It was just spot on.”
Training is what helped to prepare IU East as well. On July 20, two fugitives from Hamilton County were found to be camping near Middlefork Reservoir, located adjacent to the campus. The pair fled from RPD, staying in the vicinity of the campus, Meijer and the reservoir. The campus was placed on lockdown that Friday afternoon while the pursuit pursued into the next morning before one fugitive was taken into custody, the second took his own life.
RPD, WCSD, IUPD-East, ISP, Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Marshall’s coordinated efforts to bring in the fugitives and to search the area. The agencies set up a perimeter on the campus, and helped to escort staff and students from the buildings at IU East and Ivy Tech Community College.
“Law enforcement is one,” Dunning said. “We’re all one team. I cannot say enough about the working relationship that we have grown with Richmond Police Department, Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, Richmond Fire Department, EMA, and with Reid Health. When things happen on our campus, who all is going to respond? It’s going to be all of those people. Since I’ve been here, I’ve reached out those agencies and we’ve got a great working relationship. We’re all first responders and we all work together.”
Tudor said one of the things schools – and businesses – need to do is to make sure that they have protocols and procedures in place if an event like this occurs.
“They need to train for those events and make sure their staff is well educated on what they need to do, so that when it does happen, you can minimize the risk to the students and to the staff. Dennis did an outstanding job of doing exactly that. When they went into their lockdown protocol procedure, all the teachers responded how they should have. That just speaks volumes to the school district in of itself. We train for an active shooter/active threat regularly as a law enforcement agency. We work pretty regularly with all of the schools in Wayne County to make sure that we are training the same way, and that we all have procedures and protocols to follow.”
“They did a great job that day,” Tudor said. “It’s hard for me to speak on how those teachers, staff and students feel because we prepare for these situations, to some degree the best that we can. So, for us, when it does happen, we’ve rehearsed these scenarios unlike the school. They can never prepare fully for an event like that.”
This summer, another drill will be conducted at Northeastern High School, located in Fountain City, IN, for officers to train.
Time to Heal
Jerry Wilde, dean of the IU East School of Education, has an extensive background in working with children and adolescents with anger and emotional issues. He has conducted research on this issue and written several books and papers on the topic. Previously, he has been a psychotherapist, working with children and adults or families; he’s been a school psychologist; and shared his expertise at the college level as an instructor for over 25 years.
Wilde has dealt with and taught others how to manage youth that are disruptive, aggressive, angry, stressed or anxious and how to intervene and work through problems.
“Teaching is the hardest and best job in the world. If you want to make an impact in the lives of children, there’s no better way to do it because you’re not just a teacher, you’re a counselor, and many times, a substitute parent,” Wilde said. “It took me awhile to figure this out, but some of the best therapy I ever did, was to play checkers or a game of horse with a kid. That’s when they’ll really talk to you.”
His research has allowed him to help future teachers to understand the nature of these issues better and to help them to understand the dynamics in children’s emotions and how it impacts the classroom and learning.
“What made me interested in this topic, is that in my career in public education I dealt with a lot of students with behavioral issues,” Wilde said. “A common occurrence is that they had issues with anger management. One of the things I learned is that if we can help kids understand what causes them to become angry, then we can give them tools to do a better job in those situations.”
During the incident at Dennis, Wilde was concerned for every teacher, staff member and student in the building. He has close ties throughout the district. Many of his graduates from the School of Education go on to teach right here in the community. Several alumni – and a new teacher on emergency license through the school’s certificate program – were in the building.
“There was a lot of praying that day,” Wilde said.
Since the incident, not one student enrolled in the education degree programs has left the program or been deterred from teaching.
“You’re born into this. You’re called to do this,” Wilde said.
Due to his familiarity with teachers and his expertise, RCS asked Wilde to meet with teachers following the incident to help them process what had happened and how to help their students. He and counselors from Centerstone were on hand to provide insight on how to move forward.
“One of the things I said to the Dennis faculty, is that they had all been through a traumatic event, and to pretend that it didn’t happen is foolish,” he said. “There is this tendency to get back to a normal routine. I understand that. But that, I don’t think, is the way to proceed. You need to acknowledge to the students that this happened, and how it affected you personally as a teacher, and that gives them (students) permission to not be okay.
You need to acknowledge to the students that this happened, and how it affected you personally as a teacher, and that gives them permission to not be okay.
“Dealing with the aftermath of this is so difficult because everybody wants answers about what to do. I always explain that there isn’t an answer because kids deal with this differently. Some kids will not want to focus on it or talk about it, and other kids need to process it. So, whatever you do, you’re missing the mark with some of your students.”
The day of the incident, teachers assessed students to see if they needed to talk or to be referred on to a counselor that could provide individual attention to their specific needs.
There were also therapy dogs available for additional support that day.
The day after the incident, Dennis was closed, but counseling and programs were available to students at the Boys & Girls Club of Wayne County. The school would not open again before winter break began on December 20. However, the services and support continued for those at Dennis.
Samantha Searcy, B.S. in Nursing ‘17, and Lora Allen B.S. in Nursing ‘16, are critical care nurses with Reid Health’s Critical Care Unit. Searcy and Allen were a few of the community members who wanted to do something to help the Dennis community.
“I care about the community and the people that live in it,” Searcy said. “We see school shootings on social media and the news often, but it really hits home when it is in your community and so close to the people you know and love.
We wanted the students, families, teachers, staff members, and first responders to know that the community stands beside them, thanks them, and supports them all.”
I care about the community and the people that live in it. We see school shootings on social media and the news often, but it really hits home when it is in your community and so close to the people you know and love.
Searcy, Allen, Stephany Blunk, also a critical care nurse at Reid, Amber York, a nurse at Reid, and Michelle Arcos, who also works at Reid, joined together to plan and organize the event and to call community businesses and leaders to provide their support. The group also received help from Justin Blunk (Stephany Blunk’s husband) and Brandon Searcy, B.S. in Business Administration ‘16, Samantha’s husband.
“The day of the tragic shooting, a few friends and I gathered on a living room floor and said we needed to do something! We all threw around a few ideas on what type of event to put together, where it should be, who should attend,” Searcy said. “Our main goal was for the students to have fun and be kids, to feel sup-ported and loved. For the families, teachers, staff members, and first responders, we wanted them to attend to show our support and to thank them for their strength and courage. We ultimately wanted everyone that was involved in the shooting to see that the community stands beside them and supports them.”
By the next day, the group started making phone calls, the first was to the Rec Plex, which has a facility large enough to accommodate a big crowd. “Without hesitation, John Dils donated the whole Rec Plex facility and it all went up from there. So many people wanted to get involved to volunteer, to donate, and to just show support. We got so much support from the community and were able to plan and pull off a huge event in just three days,” Searcy said.
Support additionally came from the community to donate food and drinks including Papa Johns, Subway, PepsiCola, Reid Health, Buffalo Wild Wings, Pizza King, Dominos, Mancinos, Wings and Rings, etc. All the kids that attended were entered for raffle prizes for gift cards from Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dillard’s, Muddy Monkey, Hoppe Jewelers, Dunham’s, Chipotle, Ullery’s, Hot Head Burritos, El Rodeo, 5th Street Coffee and Bagels, and others.
“We had so many volunteers-the Indiana Elite Basketball team here in Richmond, multiple volunteers from Reid Health, and friends of us six helped the day of. Our mayor, Dave Snow, State Senator Jeff Raatz (and Samantha’s father), State Representative Brad Barrett, Sheriff Randy Retter and retired sheriff Jeff Cappa also attended and volunteered,” Searcy said.
Around the community, people and businesses provided posters and letters to show their support. #DennisStrong was embraced by individuals in the community by wearing green, the school’s color, and at athletic events with opposing teams also displaying their support of the Dennis community.
“Richmond Community Schools is so appreciative of the support and kindness that the community has given. We R Richmond! We R Dennis Strong!” Hazelbaker said.
Law enforcement kept its presence at the schools as well. The morning after the incident when children returned to school across the district, officers from RPD, WCSD, ISP and IUPD-East were at the buildings welcoming the students as their parents or busses dropped them off.
Dunning was at Crestdale Elementary School the next morning, which is located just down Chester Boulevard from IU East.
“Seeing the look on the children’s faces, and even the teachers, we can’t forget what they went through,” Dunning said.
“This will be something that they will never forget. This is something that we need to embrace as a community and make sure that if they have any lingering effects, or anything like that, that we are there for them. You can’t just forget about them. In my opinion, the city of Richmond and Wayne County has totally stepped up and done that. You could not ask for a better response from the community.”
How to heal and to provide a process for a number of students is a very real challenge for teachers and the district. It can be a challenge to provide a path to healing for students who have very different individual needs.
“You do the best you can do,” Wilde said. “It’s hard because kids have different needs.
One child might think, ‘How can we be thinking about math right now,’ while another child is thinking, ‘I’m tired of talking about this, let’s get back to school.’ It’s just hard.”
What Wilde didn’t recommend to the Dennis faculty, was to jump right back into routine.
“If you do just go back to a regular routine, it communicates two things. One, that you don’t care. And I know that isn’t the case because I know these teachers care about these kids and their emotional health,” Wilde said. “The other thing it communicates is that human life just doesn’t mean that much. There was a child who lost his life that day, and to pretend and to just go back to routine, is not the right path, I don’t think.”
Since the day of the incident, all of the alumni agree that there is an importance to an open dialogue in the community – between the school and law enforcement, between teachers and students, between parents and their children.
“It has been very important to keep an open dialogue after a school shooting. Students, staff and community members will, and still, have anxiety. We want them to feel safe and supported,” Hazelbaker said.
VanMiddlesworth deals with juveniles, and their world, on a daily basis. Not only professionally, but he is the head coach for the girls soccer team at Richmond High School. He is also a board member for Girls, Inc. in Richmond.
He encourages parents talk to their children.
“It is important that parents understand guns and gun violence,” VanMiddlesworth said. “These kids soak it in more than we do. We’ve dealt with several look-alike cases because kids understand gun violence, and that this gets a different level of attending. All of this manifests.
“We – the adults – need to have dialogue about gun violence and securing weapons,” he said. “We need to have a realistic discussion. We need to be more cognizant of how we talk about it and we need to secure our guns.”
Cappa agreed that the dialogue must continue.
We’ve been extremely fortunate to have a wonderful communication of the schools, first responders and the community, a kind of trifecta sort of to speak. I truly believe that was another success in how things were handled that particular day by the school. How the reunification was handled by the school for the parents and the children, how all local law enforcement responded, how surrounding law enforcement from other communities were contacting us and willing to send resources if needed, and also how we were able to communicate with the community. That also involved the media. The media was absolutely fantastic. They were able to get the information out in a timely fashion. The public information officer that was there was able to get to the media and get them what they needed, and everyone was able to do their job. I think it worked out very well.
“You never want to say that something was a textbook example, but this came very close in my opinion," Cappa said.
Wilde said he thought RCS did an amazing job the day of the incident and the days following, including Superintendent Todd Terrill and Chuck Reynolds, who was the assistant superintendent at the time. He said orchestrating the return of children and teachers to school, the messaging to parents and the community, was all well done.
“I think the Richmond Community Schools administration handled this masterfully,” Wilde said. “There is no playbook for this. They showed strong leadership. They had a plan about what they were going to do.”
Searcy agrees the community could continue to be involved as well, even months after the incident.
“Following this incident, we can continue to support the students, families, teachers, staff members, and first responders,” Searcy said. “Our community can continue to help our students feel loved and supported. Kudos to teachers, staff members and first responders, they were very courageous, they stood up for, and protected our kids in this community.”
Cain said dispatchers do not always get the credit they deserve. The dispatchers are the voice behind the scene that is keeping everybody calm.
“There is no doubt in my mind that 9-1-1 dispatchers saved lives that morning,” Cain said. “From the initial 9-1-1 call, they made countless phone calls throughout the city to lock down as many schools as they could, as quickly as they could. Because Dennis got that phone call and the school resource officers were notified by dispatch in a timely manner, Dennis was able to get locked down which slowed the entry into the school. The dispatchers were also able to provide the officers with information about the location of the shooter, which I believe, saved the lives of some officers by preventing them from going into harm's way in the school. I’m extremely proud of our dispatchers working that morning, and of our agency as a whole, because I have no doubt that if any of the other shifts would have been working, it would have been handled very similarly.”
In recognition of their efforts to keep the Dennis students, teachers and staff safe, the Indiana Senate and House recognized the county, city, RCS, and first responders for their actions with a joint resolution on February 12 at the Statehouse in Indianapolis. The resolution recognized their leadership and decisive action leading to the prevention of harm to students and teachers.
VanMiddlesworth was one of eight RPD officers to receive a Police Star. Other RPD officers received the Star included Danny Barron, Mike Black, Ami Miller, Randy Ruhl, Renee Ware, Sgt. Andrew Judy, Lt. Chris Taylor and Jon Bales, A.S. in Criminal Justice '05. Recipients of the Star from the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department included Patrolman Adam Blanton, Aaron Crawford, Jeffrey Ridgeway, Ryan Riggs, B.S. in Criminal Justice '14, Gabe Ward, B.S. in Criminal Justice '15, Sgt. Kyle Weatherly, Maj. Rick Thalls, Detective Nicholas Clevenger and School Resource Officers Rick Thalls, Sr., and David Winburn.
If you see something, say something.
The day of the incident, so much fell into place that needed to for each child to go home safely that night.
Moving forward, there is more that we can do as a community to help the healing process, and to keep another incident from happening again.
Hazelbaker said, “Many have heard the African proverb, ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and I see this to mean that it takes our community to interact with our students and to help them grow in a safe environment. So many students need a positive caring adult in their life. Mentoring could be a great opportunity to make a child’s educational experience better.”
“I think everyone in our community has a role in the education of children in our community. We need more volunteers. We need parents more engaged in their children’s academic experience. It would be great to have additional funds for school counselors,” Wilde said.
Individuals have a responsibility, too.
Individuals need to come forward when they see something unusual, if someone is acting unusual or different, or if you see someone is hurting, there is an opportunity to step in and to provide resources for help, Dunning said. At IU East, Dunning is a member of the Behavioral Consultation Team, a campus-wide team that provides consultation, recommendations for action, and coordinates campus resources in response to reports of disruptive or concerning behavior displayed by students, staff or faculty.
“It’s the whole aspect of ‘If you see something, say something,’” Dunning said. “If we can intervene before it gets to a place where they have no return, it’s a whole mental health issue. As a community, we need not to worry about offending someone, by calling to say I see something unusual. Let the police or the mental health professionals decide if it’s something that we need to worry about.”
Statistically, another active shooter incident may be few and far between, but that doesn’t mean that another incident is any less likely to occur again.
“The one thing across the country that we all suffer from is saying, ‘This won’t happen in our community.’ I think that is the wrong mindset,” Tudor said.
“I know in law enforcement, we train not to have that mind set. We train ourselves to expect and to prepare for when it does happen. So, after something like this happens, it sparks a lot of dialogue between several leaders in the community, whether its law enforcement or schools, but again, I think the dialogue is good.”
Cappa again reinforced the necessity to educate people in the community to be prepared and to respond.
“By being proactive we’re going to get ahead of that,” Cappa said. “People are responsible for their own safety. They need to be vigilant, on guard and aware of their surroundings. It all goes back to, ‘If you see something, say something.’”
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (Recommended by Bridget Hazelbaker)