One year after Parkland, Florida school shooting, Sonoma County schools increase security
Nearly one year ago, Caroline Duffy marched out of Santa Rosa High School alongside hundreds of her peers as part of a national school walkout demanding an end to gun violence.
Cars driving along Mendocino Avenue honked in support as they passed. She felt empowered, but the audacity of the moment struck her.
“It angered me that I even have to think about this,” said Duffy, 17. “They don’t want to be remembered like this, those students that were lost.”
Duffy thought of the 14 students and three staff members killed 3,000 miles away at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14, 2018, by a former student armed with an AR-15 style semiautomatic weapon. The shooting, which lasted less than seven minutes, ignited a national, student-led movement for gun safety legislation and prompted school districts nationwide, including in Sonoma County, to re-evaluate safety plans and procedures.
The issue now pervades campus life for students of all ages, a source of anxiety - and anger - that has shaped a generation of American youth.
In the year since the Parkland shooting, some local school districts have secured classroom doors with so-called Columbine locks - devices that can lock from the inside of a classroom, named after the Colorado high school that became an indelible euphemism for school shootings two decades ago.
Sonoma County schools have increased participation in active shooter training programs, encouraged students to report potential safety threats on a cellphone app and invited law enforcement to conduct safety audits at school sites.
At a training session hosted by the county last summer, hundreds of school employees were even taught how to apply pressure to a wound and use a tourniquet in case of an active shooter situation.
And some districts learned of safety flaws at schools - particularly communication with students and families during an emergency - only after potential threats in the last year revealed them.
All the while, young people took to social media, organized rallies, participated in school walkouts, dealt with copycat threats scrawled on bathroom walls at local schools, wrote to their legislators and made it known that they want the carnage to end within their lifetimes.
“I think it changed me in terms of my awareness of politics in general and how I think about school safety, but I think that like a lot of students, the shooting coincided with the natural formation of my own opinions,” Duffy said.
Sam Hegardt, a 17-year-old senior at Maria Carrillo High School in Santa Rosa, said the possibility of a school shooting still remains on his mind. A mere three months after Parkland, eight students and two teachers were fatally shot at Santa Fe High School in Texas.
“In a way, school shootings have been scarred into my brain. I feel like I think about it a lot more often than before the beginning of last year,” said Hegardt, who attended the March for Our Lives rally on March 24 with thousands of others at Santa Rosa’s Old Courthouse Square, one of over 800 protests held that day around the world.
Parkland is the deadliest mass shooting at an American high school, surpassing the April 20, 1999, Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, where two students killed 12 of their classmates and one teacher before turning their guns on themselves.
Some students did speak out after Columbine, including Robyn Anderson, a friend of the shooters who bought three of the firearms used in the attack. At the time, she was 18 and the shooters were 17. She was interviewed by national media outlets and testified to Colorado legislators that she wouldn’t have bought the guns if there had been a background check.
“It was too easy. I wish it had been more difficult,” Anderson testified in 2000.
While Columbine remained in the national consciousness for years, it never sparked a large-scale, student-led movement for gun control the way Parkland did.
Local students say that’s partly because of the emergence of social media since Columbine - student footage of the Parkland shooting was posted on Snapchat in real time - and the increasing regularity of mass shootings.
“In the worst way possible, we got used to these shootings. It became routine, and I think that’s what prompted me to go to this march. I thought that no one should expect or get used to something so horrible. This should be something we’re upset about,” Hegardt said.
New locks installed
For Sonoma County schools, keeping students safe in a country where mass shootings have become more deadly takes time, effort and money.
“The first level of reaction is tragedy and sympathy. As those emotions start to settle, you start to worry about what’s happening in your own backyard,” said Dave Rose, Petaluma City Schools assistant superintendent of student services. “It’s really hard to predict what’s going to happen, so we need to be preventative.”