How prepared can we be if evil strikes again?
In the school library, clerk Mary Ann Jacob was working with a group of 18 fourth-graders when she heard a commotion over the school intercom. She called down to the main office and was told, ‘‘There’s a shooting. Then she yelled ‘‘lock down’’ to her students before running across the hall to another classroom to tell them to lock down, as well.
‘‘The kids know the routine, and the teachers know the routine, and everyone has a spot in their room where they’re supposed to go to,’’ she told reporters on the scene.
Eventually Jacob and three other adults ushered the children into a storage room and locked the door. They found crayons and paper, which they divvied up among the kids.
‘‘They were asking, ‘What’s going on?’ We said, ‘We don’t know. Our job is to stay quiet. It may be a drill. It may not. But we’re just going to stay here.'’’
Jacob, of course, knew that it was no drill.
As soon as she heard the shots, first-grade teacher Kaitlin Roig rushed her 15 students into a tiny bathroom, using a bookshelf to barricade the door. She told her children to be ‘‘absolutely quiet.’’ ‘'I said, ‘There are bad guys out there now. We need to wait for the good guys,'’’ Roig said in an interview with ABC News. ‘‘If they started crying, I would take their faces and say, ‘It’s going to be OK. Show me your smile.'’’
Just 29 years old herself, Roig drew on her training but, more so, basic humanity to give the children what she thought they needed to make it through.
‘‘I'm thinking that I have to almost be their parent,’’ she said. So she did what any parent would do. She told them how much she loved them. And she promised that everything would be OK.
‘‘I wanted that to be one of the last things they heard,’’ Roig said, ‘‘not the gunfire in the hallway.’’
University of Virginia forensic clinical psychologist Dewey Cornell expects the shooting at Sandy Hook to reinforce the need for door locks and other security measures at schools, or even prompt additional procedures. But Cornell, a leader in developing assessment guidelines to identify threatening individuals that are now used in schools across the nation, worries about going too far.
‘‘This case is going to distort people’s perception of the safety of our schools, and that’s really unfortunate,’’ he said. ‘‘Elementary schools are extremely safe environments.’’
Aiden Licata’s parents prepped him well before the attack last week at his school. If he ever encountered danger along the lines of a Columbine or an Aurora, they told him, do one thing: Run.
The 6-year-old did just that, having the presence of mind to grab his classmates and flee even after the shooter burst into his classroom and gunned down his teacher.
‘‘He was very brave,’’ Robert Licata said of his son. ‘‘He waited for his friends.’’
It’s easy to imagine that similar conversations are happening all across the nation now, after Sandy Hook.
That, too, is just part of society today, said James Garbarino, a professor of humanistic psychology at Loyola University in Chicago who specializes in violence and trauma involving children.
Children have seen enough of these horrors on television news or the Internet or in fictionalized movies to know that something bad could happen to them, too — and to wonder how they should respond just in case. Parents, Garbarino said, should have the conversation as long as they can ensure their children are aware and informed without frightening them unnecessarily about a situation that they are, still, unlikely to ever face.
‘‘What do you say? You say, ‘It’s really sad. This terrible thing happened. This young man went crazy, and he had guns. But I know your school is safe because the teachers are on the lookout.'’’
In short, he said: ‘‘Do all that you can to foster their sense of security.’’
Brock said that doing drills with younger children, a common thing post-Columbine, has produced two important conclusions.
First, kids faced with the mock version of a stressful event respond appropriately. And second, developing that appropriate response can make them feel they have the power to keep themselves safe — and thus make the situation appear less threatening.
‘‘I was kind of worried for a while there that by doing these new things called lockdown drills, we might be unnecessarily frightening kids and preparing them for an event that has a real low probability of occurring,’’ Brock said. ‘‘Was the cost worth the benefit, especially since it’s going to be so rare that we’re going to have to employ these drills?’’
‘‘The answer,’’ he said, ‘‘appears to be yes.’’
Pauline Arrillaga, a Phoenix-based national writer for The Associated Press, can be reached at features(at)ap.org