As shocked parents of York Road Elementary School students got the call that a 9-year-old boy brought a loaded gun to school Tuesday, administrators at the school already were handling the situation.
Quick responses from students, teachers and administrators are being credited with keeping the incident from being more serious.
Police said the student threatened two classmates with a 9mm gun in a boy's bathroom. One student who was threatened told his teacher, the gun was taken away and the child who brought the gun was placed in police custody. The police, parents and the school district office were called.
Every school in the Rock Hill school district has a crisis plan for situations such as bomb threats, medical emergencies, fires, incidents involving weapons on campus and weather-related problems. Crisis plans include steps for communicating with law enforcement, parents, district office staff and the media.
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The crisis plans were created with grant money from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools. Rock Hill received about $250,000 in 2003 and about $132,000 in 2005.
"I think it's still one of the safest places for kids to be because we're all attuned to the children's safety and working diligently all the time to ensure it," said Susan York, director of school climate for Rock Hill schools. "It's the one place parents can send their children and know that we have taken the time and effort to go through multiple steps to ensure that safety."
Perception vs. reality
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, York's right about kids being safer in school than on the streets.
Students were less likely to be victims of crimes including aggravated assault, rape, sexual assault and robbery in school than they were outside of school every year from 1992 until 2005, the last year there is data from the annual Indicators of School Crime and Safety report.
Douglas Eckberg, chairman of the department of sociology and anthropology at Winthrop University, said the perception that gun violence in schools is increasing is off-base.
"Every year when you survey the population, they always think the crime rate has gone up," he said. "Part of it is that media coverage has expanded so that crimes that happen far, far away get enormous amounts of coverage. ... An extraordinarily rare crime can be played up all over the place. It causes people to believe that the threats that they're facing and the threats that their children are facing are much greater than they really are."
Rock Hill police have responded to more than 60 incidents involving weapons in schools since August 2005. Of those, nine involved guns, five of which were BB or pellet guns. Those numbers don't include Rock Hill High, Castle Heights Middle or Lesslie, Independence and India Hook elementary schools, which are outside of city limits.
"I'd say that the schools in York County have taken precautions as best as they can to prevent those things from happening," said York County Sheriff's Capt. Stanley Wells, who oversees school resource officers, including in Rock Hill. "I think that because of that, we haven't had any more problems than we already have."
York said that at first glance, it seems the plan worked pretty well at York Road. She pointed out that Tuesday's incident could have happened anywhere, but because it happened at school, people knew how to react.
Anytime there is an emergency, including last week at York Road, administrators later evaluate how well the plan worked.
"Part of this is planning and prevention and preparedness, and then another big component is the response," York said. "And we've responded, so now we have to recover. And part of recovery is evaluating what happened. What could we have done differently? What steps did not work? Did our communication system hold up? Were the police informed? ... Those are the kinds of questions that we will debrief after the storm clears."
Susan Boyd, the mother of two York Road students, had a similar reaction.
"You already are aware that it could happen," she said. "Even in private schools, things like that happen."
Boyd said all you can do is talk to your children and prepare them in case something bad does happen. The school, she said, was ready when it did.
"I don't see how they could have done more than what they did," Boyd said. "They did everything they could."
Boyd said she was glad to hear that the principal talked with students after the incident. She also said that the school's sign-in procedures, which require everyone entering the school to check in, are comforting.
Police have not yet determined where the boy at York Road got the gun he brought to school. He is in the custody of the Department of Social Services while authorities determine if he will be charged with any crimes.