Officials decry violence in wake of school shooting

‘We have to do something different’

BUCKHANNON — What the United States is doing — or not doing — to prevent mass shootings obviously isn’t working, and it’s time for a change, the mayor told city council at its meeting Thursday.

Prior to any business getting underway Thursday, mayor David McCauley delivered a message in reference to the Valentine’s Day school shooting that occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., claiming the lives of 17 people and leaving many more critically injured.

“In the 24-plus hours since the shooting … I’ve had conversations with people in our community, and I suppose we all seek reassurance that nothing like that could ever happen here,” McCauley said. “I’m sure the good folks in Parkland/Boca Raton mostly thought when they sent their kids off to school that nothing like that ever could occur there either.”

“Of course, it could happen here, or any place else in the United States,” McCauley continued, adding that the shooter showed no discrimination when taking aim.“There were precious young people who died yesterday (Wednesday, Feb. 14), and there were older people who died. There were Republicans, Democrats, liberally minded folks, conservatively minded people, Catholics, Baptists, white, black and Hispanic people who were shot and killed.”

McCauley called for change, saying he’s been consultation with Buckhannon police chief Matt Gregory and interim fire chief J.B. Kimble.

“We have to do something different in this country than we’ve done so far to address this horror,” the mayor said. “There have been more than 300 school shooting incidents since 2013 in the U.S. Enough is enough.”

McCauley has been working with Gregory and Kimble to assess the community’s preparedness for a similar tragic event. In response to the mayor’s inquiry, the two chiefs prepared a joint statement McCauley shared with council.

“We want to reassure the residents of our community, that while absolute prevention of this type of violence is something that may never be achieved completely, the police department and fire department nevertheless works tirelessly to ensure the safety of our community’s schools,” the statement reads.

The statement cites a close professional working relationship between first responder agencies, the Upshur County Board of Education and Upshur County schools.

“Beyond this, in an effort to avoid this type of tragedy, meetings between each of these respective agencies occur regularly, safety plans are in place and are discussed and tested frequently, and the layout of each of the school buildings is well known,” the statement continues. “In addition, the placement of PRO officers at Buckhannon Academy Elementary School from the Buckhannon PD and at the Buckhannon-Upshur middle and high schools by the Upshur County Sheriff’s Department only stand to enhance the safety of our children, our teachers and all school staff. The safety of our schools is of the utmost priority to each of our agencies and as we come to work each and every day, we will always strive for this goal.”

Gregory said the police department has scheduled a meeting with Buckhannon Academy Elementary School, the board of education and public safety partners, including Jeff Harvey, who designed BAES’s safety plan.

“We plan to conduct an active shooter type drill for that location,” Gregory said. “This has actually been in the works for some time now, and we do anticipate that to occur next week.”

During council’s closing remarks, councilman David Thomas pointed to a culture that glorifies violence as one factor that may have contributed to the spike in school shootings.

“I think we have a culture that has desensitized violence, and we almost celebrate violence,” Thomas said. “I haven’t seen a movie in 25 years — because I lost my vision 25 years ago — but from what my friends have told me, it’s amazing the descriptive digital impact that we have in movies today and from media outlets and other outlets — TV, Facebook and all the different cable channels.

“And we talk about mental illness,” Thomas continued, “and I think that is a real problem in our society today, but at what point in time do we address the garbage we’re putting out to our young people?”

Thomas also highlighted what he described as a “lack of parenting.”

“I believe in the Constitution and the right to express yourself and so forth, but we’re just inundated with this kind of violence, and I think we’ve desensitized our youth,” he said.

McCauley said of the school shooting, “Some things you can’t overlook, nor can you sugarcoat them.”

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