Ledyard, Stonington take active approach to prevent, respond to mass shooting incidents at schools

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Ledyard — Ever since two teenagers killed 13 people in what would become known as the Columbine massacre in 1999, instructors with the National Tactical Officers Association have been working to prepare communities across the country for the worst.

But in Ledyard, instructor Don Alwes ran into something he’d never seen before — a police union that paid for school administrators to attend his training session.

“I’m not saying it hasn’t happened anywhere before,” Alwes said. “But this is an excellent example for the rest of the country.”

Gathered in the Ledyard High School library Thursday morning, Ledyard police officers, as well as officers from other Connecticut towns and as far away as New Mexico, kicked off the two-day workshop on school and workplace violence.

Joining them were 10 Ledyard school administrators, including principals, assistant principals, an athletic director, the director of special services and the outgoing superintendent.

The groups listened intently as Alwes outlined what each day would look like, stressing that he’d focus on past violent events at schools and what went wrong.

“We’re going to focus on history, because I want you to learn the lessons,” he said. “In many of the cases we’ll discuss, multiple people died. We owe it to them to learn from the past.”

Along the way, Alwes said, attendees would learn about how they react to an apparent active shooter situation, how they can assess who may be a threat and how they can determine where their vulnerabilities are.

He stressed, though, that there’s no one profile for who may become a mass shooter, and that the person may not come from within the district or even the community.

Alwes said the groups would spend time talking about how they can work together to speed up police response, but also would learn techniques potential victims can use to protect themselves before police arrive.

The course, he said, would put at least as much focus on prevention as on response.

Sgt. Eric Bushor, president of Ledyard Police Union Local 2693, said union members didn’t realize when they decided to pay for administrators’ training that it was unusual to do so.

“We just thought it was a unique opportunity to get together with members of the faculty here,” Bushor said. “I think worst case, if something were to happen and they knew what to expect and how to assist us, that’s very valuable and potentially could save lives.”

During a 10-minute break after the first hour of the workshop, Ledyard High School Principal Amanda Fagan expressed similar thoughts.

“We want to be sure that they understand what our safety procedures are, and that we understand what their prospective response procedures would be,” Fagan said, “so that in the awful event that there was something we had to work together on, an emergency in the schools, we would be on the same page from the start.”

Both Fagan and police Chief John Rich alluded to conversations already happening between school officials and law enforcement.

In the past, Fagan said, they’ve discussed allowing police officers remote access to the new cameras monitoring the schools. She wants to see that through.

And, Rich said, both groups have been talking about solidifying how police would gain entry to school buildings based on the various locations where an intruder may be.

“For (police) to be so committed to helping us be committed to the safety of our kids is really important to us,” Fagan said. “I don’t want this two-day training to be the end of it. I want this to be the start, or continuation, of an ongoing collaboration between us.”

In Stonington, police also spent much of the week training to respond to potentially violent events that could arise at the high school, according to Capt. Todd Olson.

Olson said Stonington’s two firearms instructors — who’ve gone through active-shooter training with the Law Enforcement Council of Connecticut — led the about four-hour training sessions, which began Monday and ended Thursday.

Before the intensive training began, though, Olson said high school custodians led officers through the high school’s halls, pointing out the nooks and crannies along the way.

It’s the first on-site training police have done at a Stonington school in about two years, Olson estimated, largely because of budget constraints.

He said school officials didn’t participate in the training but were cooperative and blocked off an area of the school so police could do a hands-on simulation activity.

“It’s important for us to train in individual schools,” Olson said. “We need to be aware of the different challenges at each facility.”

l.boyle@theday.com

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