Santa Fe ISD leaders share lessons learned after shooting

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Even with the best preparation, school shootings can happen near you; that’s the message from Santa Fe school district leaders speaking Thursday at SXSW.

Last May eight students and two teachers were shot and killed in Santa Fe near Houston. The district and even state leaders said Santa Fe went above and beyond when it came to school security before the shooting — officers, cameras, etc. They had a detailed crisis response plan.

It still happened.

It highlights a complex issue; how to stop violence before it starts. The state legislature is focusing on that like they’ve never done before. More and more they’re looking for ways to improve mental health.

At SXSW, the audience stood in applause for Santa Fe ISD’s Assistant Police Chief Gary Forward, who that day pulled a wounded officer to safety before turning back towards the shooter.

“Go back to engage the gunman. Try to keep him occupied, distracted, keep him the focus on me, not on the kid,” said Forward, describing what happened. He became emotional and the moderator moved to a different topic.

Sante Fe had 18 full time or part time officers before the shooting and called themselves the “poster child” for community policing.  Now, they’ve added 20 more security personel.

“You can harden schools to the point where they do look like prisons, trying to keep intruders out, but in most of the school shootings, the perpetrator was supposed to be there,” said James Norman, Santa Fe ISD school board president. 

The challenge spreads across the state.

AISD Patrol Officer Wayne Sneed tells KXAN while shootings grab attention; there are hundreds of trauma filled days when its just one student in crisis.

“Usually when I get called in it’s pretty severe. It’s either a suicide attempt or something that’s really really severe, like a student that has a severe plan,” said Sneed.

Last school year in AISD alone, 378 tried to commit suicide. Nearly 1,700 injured themselves. Those numbers, he says, have been going up since he started in 2013. 

“I don’t always know the answer to why. Sometimes the students can’t even tell you why.”

In late February, Sneed testified at a Texas House committee hearing, advocating for HB 10 by Houston democrat Senfronia Thompson.

HB 10 would create the Texas Behavioral Health Research Institute — a partnership with all of Texas health-related universities to study prevention. Sneed is optimistc part of that bill will research the genetic cause of mental health similar to what they’re doing to search for a cure for cancer and diabetes.

Prevention in most cases is more expensive than reacting to crimes but most health expert say it works better.

The latest data from the CDC show it’s the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 to 34.

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