LEMOORE – Students, faculty and members of law enforcement met Tuesday on the campus of Lemoore Middle College High School to discuss a topic that causes anxiety for all involved — gun safety on campus.
Members of LMCHS’s Leadership Class organized the open forum which gave students a chance to address concerns about school safety and gun laws, as well as to ask local law enforcement and school administrators questions about those topics.
Junior Anastasia Swann said she thinks about the possibility of the campus being attacked, similar to last year’s mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, during which 17 were killed, “all the time.” Fellow junior Angelique Delarosa said she thinks about the possibility less frequently than Swann, though she is aware of the fact it could happen.
“I want us to be able to speak up. For as much as adults want to speak up for us, they weren’t there. They didn’t know what we felt when we had to go through it. No one could have known what those teenagers [in Parkland] felt. I appreciate that our generation is trying to give ourselves a voice,” Swann said.
Swann said that when Parkland survivors started to speak up about gun laws by staging protests in the wake of the atrocity that took place nearly one year ago on Feb. 14, 2018, it motivated her to get more involved.
“They had gone through so much and they were still trying to help everyone. It was very moving because I want to make sure my classmates are OK. I want to make sure every school is OK,” Swann said.
“When [support] comes from our peers, I think we feel it a lot more than, say, a grown-up,” Delarosa said.
Students were invited to write questions on cards which were read by volunteers in the Leadership class and answered by the panel of representatives. The panel featured West Hills College Lemoore President Dr. Kristin Clark, Lemoore Union High School District Superintendent Debbie Muro, Kings County Office of Education program manager Courtney Coelho, school social worker Nathaniel Pennington, school psychologist Christian Loeffler and Kristina Solberg, a representative from the office of Sen. Diane Feinstein.
Questions asked hit on the topics of mental health awareness on campus, what to do in an emergency situation, how students can have their voices heard without the ability to vote, the possibility of gun safety classes being offered and emergency training for teachers.
One student asked if police carry firearms on campus and if that's enough to stop a shooter.
“How are you going to stop someone who’s at rock bottom, they’re actively shooting people and killing people? How are you going to stop them? That’s basically why we carry guns,” West Hills Campus Police Officer Steven McPherson.
“When it comes to stopping a threat, you can never really have enough resources,” Sergeant Alvaro Santos said, adding that law enforcement does what they can with what they have.
During the forum, Santos also said that the Lemoore Police Department’s training is working and that their response time for an active shooting situation on campus would be two minutes or less.
“If you have an officer on campus it increases your likelihood of stopping an incident like this by a huge margin. The first thing that officer is going to do, whether it’s Officer [Jason] Stephens [Youth Development Officer, Lemoore High School] or Officer McPherson, they’re going to run toward danger. Their main goal at the time is to address the suspect’s attention and take that attention on to themselves and take it away from the rest of the public. ”
Delarosa, who was on campus during the lockdown that turned out to be a false alarm last year, and Swann, who was out sick that day, said that they’d like to see less fatal ways of dealing with mass shooters.
“It’s kind of contradictory. In a school shooting scenario, I don’t think you should want to use a gun to take down someone with a gun,” Delarosa said.
“It doesn’t really support your argument. It’s fighting fire with fire,” Swann agreed.
Swann cited a news story she read about schools using tear gas to stop active school shooters as a good idea, noting that there are other ways than relying on firearms to keep the public safe.
Law enforcement personnel on the panel expressed that potential threats can be stopped before anyone gets hurt by simply reaching out. McPherson said that in most mass shootings, it’s later revealed that someone had knowledge about the crimes ahead of time and didn’t come forward.
Stephens said that students can reach out to law enforcement anonymously using an app called Sprigeo that they can download on their phones. Anything they want to share about potential safety threats will go directly to law enforcement.
“I think [the forum] was great for a first iteration and I hope it becomes a recurring event,” English teacher and Leadership Advisor Sierra Patheal said.
Officer Stephens agreed that the forum was constructive.
“These are the kinds of things that will be critical to expanding and amending what we’ve done up to this point. I think the students did a great job,” Stephens said.