Newtown resident discusses school safety in Charleston summit - WBOY - Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Newtown resident discusses school safety in Charleston summit

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Lisa Petrovich, a former West Virginia resident and a current Newtown, Conn., resident, described the small Connecticut town as the fictional Mayberry where nothing bad could happen.

Residents never imagined the tragedy that would strike Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 children and six staff members were fatally shot, she said.

Petrovich spoke to educators, law enforcement and members of the community during the Feb. 6 Summit on West Virginia Safe Schools, hosted at the Culture Center in Charleston.

Although Petrovich's children didn't attend at the time of the mass killing, Petrovich said she personally knew several staff members killed and parents of some of the children.

She recalled the principal, Dawn Hochsprung, as a "force to be reckoned with" and a person who was passionate about education.

"She had a lot of energy," she recalled. "She was the type of person who would bring the staff donuts every Friday. … She took her job seriously but knew you could have fun with it.

Petrovich also remembered first-grade teacher Victoria Leigh Soto, who attempted to hide her students in the closets.

According to reports, Soto ultimately died when children came out of the closet to run away. She put herself between the shooter and the kids.

"I was close to Vicky," Petrovich said, describing Soto as a "vibrant young lady."

"She was like my daughter. She was close in age to my own children."

"She had a class fish and they named it Cutie. Over the weekend, it passed away, and she didn't want the students to be sad, so she went out and found the same kind of goldfish without telling them." 

Petrovich said the town is still in disbelief.

"There is a collective sadness," she said. "You can see it in everyone's eyes. Wherever you go, when people ask how are you, you know why."

However, Petrovich said the tragedy also has spurred a call to action.

"There have been support groups popping up. A lot are taking action whether it's for mental health issues. … We had a bipartisan task force at the high school last week. Several of the families of the children spoke, which I think is incredible."

"Some kind of positive change has to come out of this," she later added.

So what can West Virginia learn from Newtown?

"I think, first and foremost, not to scare anyone, but my children went to that school," Petrovich said. "I always felt incredibly safe and secure there. … If it happened there, it could happen anywhere. I don't want  it happen again."

"On a personal note, it was life-changing. You go on about your lives every day, humming along and something like this happens. It really stops you dead in your tracks and makes you realize what really is important in life," she added.

Petrovich concluded, asking the community to do just one thing.

"Don't forget us," she said. "Something positive has to come out of this tragedy. There is too much sadness in this town and all across the country. Don't forget about us."

Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Dave Grossman also spoke during the Feb. 6 summit, discussing the anatomy of violence in schools.

Grossman compared school violence to fires at schools saying a recent DOJ reported that in 1997, 57 people were killed from school violence and a quarter of a million were seriously injured from violence in schools.

"How many were killed by a fire? Zero," he said.

Grossman said the number of people killed due to school violence has increased since that time, while fire deaths have stayed at zero. He said schools everywhere can follow some simple steps to stop these deaths.

One of his recommendations was to use a type of film over classroom door windows. This film would not be bullet proof, but shatter proof. That way, if a person shot out the glass, they could not reach the hand through the window to unlock the door.

West Virginia working to put this type of film on the windows, Grossman said. The cost is in the neighborhood of $40,000 per school, he said, but meeting fire code is even more expensive.

So what does he think is causing school violence? He said the nation is "raising a generation of killers."

"They start at a young age," he said. "They are watching violent images of death and violence. They are watching the most violent movies, while they snack and cheer. It's like Pavlov's dogs."

Like Pavlov's experiment to condition dogs to salivate when a bell rung, Grossman compared subjecting kids to violent video games as a similar element of conditioning.

"We are classically conditioning them to associate pleasure and reward with death and suffering," he said. "We are giving them violent social role models. Folks, we are teaching our kids to kill."

What does he think will stop violence? For one, Grossman said schools must have a plan.

"Killers fear failure," he said. "They know if you have a plan and the SWAT team will come in the door, they will say, ‘I better not try that here.'"

And he said schools like Sandy Hook are "just the beginning."

"They are coming for daycares … little league games. We have raised a generation of killers like nothing seen before in human history," he said.

One problem he said he sees is denial.

"Every time you see a fire extinguisher or a fire hydrant, ask yourself, ‘What have we done to prepare for violence?" he asked the audience.

Grossman's second recommendation was to deter potential killers. He mentioned a number of ways to do this, including placing police officers in schools.

"You don't have to have cops there all the time," he said. "That's your decision."

Another way, he said, is to detect. He said there are many ways to detect a possible tragedy including questions about security.

"The No. 1 indicator is surveillance monitoring or an unusual interest and question about security," he said. "Any time someone questions you about security, alarm bells should be going off. They are seeking weak links."

He also recommended people to tell someone inquiring about security to say, "I'm not qualified to discuss security, but I'll get someone who can."

"Get their number, their backup number, their address," he said. "Nine times out of 10, it's a concerned parent, but that one out of 10 is a crime that didn't happen."

Grossman also mentioned a stricter dress code, mentioning especially baggy pants he called "gang pants."

"They are designed to conceal weapons," he said.

He also recommended movable metal detectors.

"Randomly select a place one day," he said. "Maybe a different classroom every day or one bus in the evening. ... It's like a radar speed trap. It's always moved."

He said many school killers had a few things in common, mentioning grievances of a real or perceived injustice. He said 70 percent of the people accused or charged with school shootings were bullied.

"If we reduce bullying, we reduce one of the contributing factors," he said.

Grossman said they also had an obsession with media violence.

"All were obsessed with media violence, violent TV and movies. All of the school killers also had a persistent theme of violence in their school."

Grossman also mentioned delaying these types of intruders.

"There's a couple of things you can do to slow this person down," he said.

He listed three ways to slow an intruder —  have a single point of entry, make individual rooms quickly securable and  make sure rooms are a securable location. As an example in the last scenario, he mentioned the film over the windows.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said he wanted to invite discussion on the school violence issue.

"There's going to be different views on some of these issues," he said. "We fully expect that. We actually want that. The whole idea is to contemplate and to reach a consensus on it to make schools safer on a local and practical level."

Goodwin said several of Grossman's points were echoed in other panels throughout the day, such as his three ways of delaying potential intruders.

"That's what need to be thinking about," he said. "By the same token, we need to talk about the impact that this added — the layer of security creates on the learning environment."

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