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National
Armed teachers become a reality in some Georgia schools
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Armed teachers become a reality in some Georgia schools

VIDEO: Scenes from March for Our Lives Rallies

Armed teachers become a reality in some Georgia schools

The school shooting in Parkland, Florida, convinced school Superintendent Daniel Brigman that his plan to arm teachers and other Laurens County, Georgia, school personnel needed to go beyond the idea phase.

>> Watch the news report here

>> Parkland shooting survivor calls out NRA over gun ban during Pence speech

“I’ve had this discussion repeatedly with different boards of education for the last 14 years,” Brigman said. His school district is southeast of Macon and the first in Georgia to make the move. “What happened in Florida heightened the level of awareness and concern that we needed a procedure in place to protect the safety of our schools.”

>> On AJC.com: “He had an AR-15, but so did I.” Sutherland Springs hero hailed by NRA

As students across metro Atlanta and the country head to school each day, the adults in their lives grapple with how to keep kids safe. More police? More guns? Fewer guns? More locks? More cameras? More technology?

Laurens County’s school board approved arming teachers last month. The Florida shooting seemed to set the dominoes falling. Georgia made it legal for school systems to arm teachers in 2012, but this month the Fannin County Board of Education will consider a similar decision, and there are discussions in others, such as Floyd and Bleckley counties. Most metro Atlanta school system leaders have so far declined to consider it, though Clayton County Superintendent Morcease Beasley said after Florida that the issue was “more complicated than a simple yes or no (for or against); it will require a multifaceted response from more than a single entity making a decision.”

>> On AJC.com: Campus carry attracts opinions, but no problems as school opens

As for arming classroom instructors, teachers, parents and law enforcement are on both sides of the issue. And the conversation has gained volume with recent events, from school shootings to school walkouts and a school-violence and gun protest march in Atlanta that drew an estimated 30,000 people.

According to data compiled by the Washington Post, 210,000 students at 213 schools have experienced gun violence at school since the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. When you consider the tens of millions of schoolchildren, that number is tiny. But this year alone, there have been 13 school shootings, according to media reports.

>> What are the worst school shootings in modern US history?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Students pass by a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Students pass by a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Laurens is a rural county with a population of less than 50,000, with about 25 percent of those under 18. The spread of the county — its 807 square miles make it the third largest in the state — demonstrate a safety safety issue for it’s two high schools, two middle schools and four elementary schools.

It’s no secret that it can take more than half an hour to get from one of the high schools to the other, so emergency response times are an issue. The school doesn’t have school resource officers. It shares the cost of rotating Laurens County deputies among schools, but the officers also help police the rest of the county.

>> On AJC.com: Georgia’s law allows mentally ill to buy guns after 5 years

“Look at the shootings that have taken the most lives,” Brigman said. “The shooter was done in about 10 minutes.”

The sheriff’s department is working with Brigman to develop a training plan, but doesn’t want people to equate the teachers with what its deputies do.

Chief Deputy Stan Wright said, “We are the law enforcement, but arming the teachers is like giving them a tool that we hope will never need to be used.”

Not all police officers think it’s a tool teachers need.

>> What to do if you are in an 'active shooter' situation

Officer Donald Rene, a Fulton County Schools police officer, said he’d hate to add another duty to the long list already placed on teachers. “I don’t grade tests and (the teachers) shouldn’t carry guns,” he said.

The National Association of School Resource Officers and at least one of Georgia’s teacher associations are not in favor of arming teachers. But a recent poll by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators show that 53 percent of teachers would not carry a gun to school if permitted, but more than 17 percent said they would.

Katie Vanburen, who had a harrowing experience some years ago involving a gun in school, is for arming teachers.

“As long as it’s on a voluntary basis, with controls in place like requiring weapons to be holstered and secured with biometrics, agreements that use is for encounters with deadly weapons,” she said.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A student arriving for class holds the door for a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
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Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A student arriving for class holds the door for a Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy stationed at East Laurens High School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Biometrically controlled guns use technology to keep unauthorized users from being able to fire a weapon, though the technology can be expensive and is not widely developed.

She was a student at Etowah High School in Cherokee County when Brian Head came to school on March 26, 1994, armed with a handgun.

“He ended up killing himself in the classroom the period before lunch. But not before he attempted to shoot my boyfriend, Keith Herring. He was friends with Keith and both Keith and our history teacher, Coach Watkins, tried to talk him down with a gun pointed in their faces,” she said.

>> PHOTOS: Remembering Parkland Florida school shooting victims

“That day was chaos. A lot of changes have been put in place since then, and parents and teachers are wholly unappreciative of the work that’s already been done since then.”

Technology alone isn’t enough, in the mind of the school chief whose district pioneered arming teachers.

While horrific school shootings in Colorado, Connecticut and most recently Florida have become wake-up calls for community action, the so-called “Amish school massacre” in 2006, was the clarion call for a school superintendent 1,500 miles away in rural Texas. A delivery man who was known to the Amish community shot 11 girls in a one-room schoolhouse, killing five.

>> What is a mass shooting? Definitions can vary

“I tried everything – bean bag guns, tranquilizer guns, cameras. I’ve got more cameras per square foot than probably any other school district – you name it,” said David Thweatt, superintendent of Harrold Independent Schools. In 2008, it became the first in Texas to arm teachers.

“The only thing that’s going to be 100 percent fool-proof is arming teachers with lethal force,” he said.

The identity of these so-called “guardians” are known only to the superintendent and the school board, who approve each individual.

Harrold hasn’t had an “active-shooter” incident, nor any weapons discharged on campus.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy patrols West Laurens Middle School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Close

Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
May 2, 2018 Dublin: A Laurens County Sheriff’s deputy patrols West Laurens Middle School on Tuesday, May 2, 2018, in Dublin. Laurens County is the first school district in Georgia to allow teachers and other school personnel to carry weapons. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Both Brigman and Thweatt believe arming teachers is an effective use of resources. For the cost of one full-time police officer, Thweatt said he can have about 20 people armed and trained to protect the school.

But some argue that it won’t save money in the long run: expenses such as insurance and training costs will eat short-term savings. Any school employee who carries a gun on campus raises insurance rates. Those who determine those costs say the presence of guns, no matter who carries them, makes any place susceptible to injury or death. Who pays for the insurance depends mainly on who that person works for — the school district, an independent law enforcement office such as city police or county sheriff or an independent security firm.

>> How to talk to your child about traumatic events like school shooting

With Laurens being the first in the state planning armed teachers, the Georgia School Boards Association didn’t have figures available. “We are still exploring this to determine what the actual costs will be,” said spokesman Justin Pauly. “We anticipate it could be the same or similar to insuring School Resource Officers.”

Safety itself is another argument. Opponents fear authorizing guns for teachers will lead to innocent people getting hurt or killed.

No schools in the U.S. with armed teachers have had active-shooter events, but there have been gun mishaps.

>> Who are the Top 10 recipients of NRA money?

A few weeks after the Parkland shooting, a teacher in a Northern California school accidentally discharged a firearm while teaching a public safety class. One student was injured by a bullet fragment or debris.

A third-grade boy in Minnesota was able to snake a finger into a school police officer’s holster earlier this year, firing one shot from the department-issued Glock 22 into the floor of the school gymnasium.

Closer to home, two Georgia teachers in the last 12 months brought guns to school illegally. One fired off a shot and the other tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Laurens County Superintendent Daniel Brigman is working with the sheriff’s department to develop procedures for teachers to carry guns on campus. The school board voted last month to allow it. Arlinda Smith Broady/abroady@ajc.com
Close

Armed teachers becomes reality in Georgia

Photo Credit: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Laurens County Superintendent Daniel Brigman is working with the sheriff’s department to develop procedures for teachers to carry guns on campus. The school board voted last month to allow it. Arlinda Smith Broady/abroady@ajc.com

Even those who’ve been face to face with a gunman don’t agree on the best course of action.

Antoinette Tuff, the bookkeeper at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy who talked an armed man at the school into surrendering on Aug. 20, 2013, has become a national school safety advocate.

At the March For Our Lives Rally on March 24 on downtown Atlanta’s Liberty Plaza, she recalled telling the suicidal 20-year-old: ” ‘It’s going to be all right sweetie. I just want you to know that I love you…OK?’ “

She’s adamant that if she’d had a gun the situation wouldn’t have ended peacefully.

>> Read more trending news 

Michelle Haberland, a volunteer with the Georgia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, agrees.

“Arming educators is a bad idea, period. In fact, research shows that the presence of guns in schools will actually increase the risk to students,” she said. “Instead of doing dangerous things like arming teachers, our elected leaders should focus on passing policies to keep guns out of the hands of people with violent intentions.”

>> Father of Parkland shooting victim Meadow Pollack sues 'coward' deputy who didn't enter school

But eighth-grader Tatiana Jones said she understands the benefits and the dangers.

“Having more people to help if a shooter comes to the school is a good thing, but teachers are human,” she said. “What if they snap and pull that gun on a student or someone else. If it came to my school I don’t think I’d be against it, but it would give me one more thing to worry about.”

A recent poll by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators of 7,204 members across the state show:

— 53 percent of teachers would not carry a gun to school if permitted

— 20.8 maybe would carry a gun

— 8.7 percent probably would carry a gun

— 17.5 percent would carry a gun

*numbers are rounded and may not add up to 100 percent.

Read More

News

  • An 11-year-old Idaho girl who accompanied her grandfather to a legislative hearing on gun laws Monday did so armed with a loaded AR-15 assault rifle. Bailey Nielsen carried the weapon slung over her shoulder. According to The Associated Press, she remained silent as her grandfather, Charles Nielsen, addressed the legislative committee before him. “Bailey is carrying a loaded AR-15,” Nielsen said, according to the AP. “People live in fear, terrified of that which they do not understand. She’s been shooting since she was 5 years old. She got her first deer with this weapon at 9. She carries it responsibly. She knows how not to put her finger on the trigger. We live in fear in a society that is fed fear on a daily basis.” The AP reported that lawmakers had no reaction to the loaded weapon and asked Nielsen no questions when he was done speaking. The hearing the Nielsens attended dealt with a proposed law that would allow out-of-state visitors who have legal concealed handguns to carry them within city limits in Idaho. A law that was implemented last summer allows Idaho residents 18 and older to carry a concealed handgun within city limits without a permit or training. The proposed legislation would extend that right to all legal U.S. residents and U.S. military members. “When they come to Idaho, they should be able to carry concealed, because they carry responsibly,” Nielsen told the panel, according to the AP. “They’re law-abiding citizens. It’s the criminal we have to worry about.” Republican state Rep. Christy Zito, who proposed the bill, argued that the law would make clear the state gun laws and allow people to better defend themselves if necessary. She cited having to pull a weapon of her own when two men approached her vehicle with her daughter sitting inside. “I stand here before you today as a mother and grandmother who has had to use a firearm to defend their child,” Zito said, the AP reported. “Even though I didn't have to pull the trigger, just the fact that they could see it, and they knew that I had it, was the determining factor.” Bailey Nielsen’s appearance before the committee, which was captured in a photograph showing the AR-15 slung over her shoulder, caused outrage among gun safety advocates. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence spoke out on social media. “This is the kind of extremism we are up against. The AR-15 was loaded,” the Facebook post read. Followers of the organization chimed in. One woman pointed out that an AR-15 is not a hunting weapon. “(I) grew up in a family of hunters in northern Minnesota,” the woman wrote. “No self-respecting hunter uses this. These weapons were created for the destruction of people, nature and property. In other words, war.” “If this is legal, God help Idaho,” a man wrote. “I’ll never go there.” Another commenter wrote that a federal age limit needs to be set for carrying a weapon. Not all who saw the image were against the girl being allowed to carry the rifle. “I’d rather have her around if something ever happened than any of you professional victims,” one man wrote. On Twitter, one man responded to a news story about the Nielsens by saying guns in public used to be the norm. “Years ago, there were far more guns and far less shootings,” the man tweeted. “Guns are not the problem. Progressive indoctrination is the problem.” Others on social media wondered how the girl was able to get a loaded assault rifle into the building. One woman wrote that she was not allowed to attend a city council meeting without turning over her pocket knife as she passed through a metal detector. Multiple people wrote about how they weren’t allowed to take cellphones into court. The AP reported that it is not unusual to see weapons in the Idaho Statehouse, where some lawmakers carry concealed weapons of their own. Handguns and the occasional long gun also make appearances when gun legislation is on the table. The bill being debated Monday was ultimately sent on to the House for review, the news agency said.
  • Two people were arrested in an Alabama motel room after police discovered drugs and cash, including more than 8 pounds of marijuana, authorities said. Shane Antoine Tillman and Jennifer Gomez, both from California, were arrested by police at a Holiday Inn Express in Decatur, AL.com reported. Tillman was charged with trafficking in cannabis and unlawful possession of a controlled substance, according to an arrest report. He was taken to the Morgan County Jail and was being held in lieu of $6,000 bail, according to court records. Gomez was charged with trafficking in cannabis and was being held in lieu of a $5,000 bond at the Morgan County Jail. Decatur Police officers responded to a call reporting persons trespassing in a room at the motel, AL.com reported. According to police, authorities found 8.5 pounds of marijuana, prescription medications and a large amount of money in the room, AL.com reported.
  • A South Carolina family is grieving after a 7-year-old girl died while having her tonsils removed last week. Paisley Elizabeth Grace Cogsdill died Friday at a Greenwood hospital, WHNS reported. Paisley’s parents told the television station the girl’s heart stopped one minute into the tonsillectomy. The girl’s parents, Austin Cogsdill and Jasmine Cogsdill, said Paisley, a second-grader at Clinton Elementary School, was healthy and had shown no signs of medical issues, WHNS reported. “You don’t understand why these things happen but we know it was God’s plan and that’s the only thing that can get us through, cause we know it was God,” Paisley’s grandmother, Mary Beth Truelock, told the television station. An obituary posted online by Gray Funeral Home in Clinton described Paisley as “a gifted and talented student and a straight-A second-grader.' “Her full of ‘Joy’ attitude could be seen in everything she did, from playing T-ball and softball to performing hip-hop dance routines and gymnastics programs with her friends,” the obituary said. Autopsy results are expected sometime Tuesday, WHNS reported. A GoFundMe account was established to help pay for funeral expenses. The $30,000 goal was exceeded by Tuesday afternoon.
  • After watching a mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter tumble bloodied to the ground, Hamilton school bus driver Bob Thacker knew he had to do something to help. Thacker, a decade-long veteran of the city schools, dashed out of his bus to help mother Tonya Uhl and her special needs daughter Katelynn to right themselves and tend to their injuries. “She (Katelynn) was all bloody so I said, ‘I got to do something,’” Thacker said of the accident last month. The solution would be a wheelchair ramp, but Thacker said the Uhl family couldn’t get any local agencies to pay for and install it. “So I decided to build it myself,” he said, adding the ramp he created out of sturdy wood is detachable, portable and can be used on other stairs should the Uhls move from their Pleasant Avenue home. Uhl, whose seventh-grade daughter attends Garfield Middle School, said of Thacker, “he doesn’t know how much he did for us.” “It’s really appreciated. He went the extra mile to help us out like nobody else has before,” said Uhl. Becky Goosey, director of transportation for the city schools, praised Thacker for going far beyond his bus driving duties after witnessing how difficult it was for Uhl to push and pull Katelyn in her wheelchair up the steps of their home. “The student fell out of her wheelchair and had a significant injury to her mouth, and the parent had trouble getting up after she fell,” said Goosey. Joni Copas, spokeswoman for Hamilton Schools, said, “Bob is just one great example of our staff members going above and beyond the call of duty. “He saw a need and wanted to help Katelyn and her mother. He witnessed the daily struggle they had getting in and out of the house, so he took it upon himself and his own expense and built a ramp for them.” Thacker also arranged for another city resident to donate an electric, motorized wheelchair to Katelynn so she can more easily move about the neighborhood and school. “Sometimes, you just got to help people,” he said.
  • An Alabama man is charged with murder and other related charges after he allegedly opened fire on his ex-wife and her new boyfriend Monday evening following a Mardi Gras parade, killing the man and critically wounding his former wife. Anthony Orr, 49, also faces charges of attempted murder and discharging a firearm into an occupied vehicle, according to Mobile County Jail records. >> Related story: Man fatally struck by Mardi Gras float Mobile Police Chief Lawrence Battiste said officers were called around 6 p.m. to the scene downtown, where they found the man dead and the woman injured. The city is currently celebrating Mardi Gras, which originated in Mobile, and was in the middle of the biggest party the community sees each year. The gunfire erupted less than an hour before the Infant Mystics parade was set to roll, AL.com reported. The victims were shot a couple of blocks from where the day’s previous parade had ended. “We are currently looking for a black male by the name of Anthony Orr, who is the suspect in this shooting,” Battiste told reporters at the crime scene Monday night, according to video from Fox 10 in Mobile. “We believe that this shooting is domestic-related. He chose to deal with the domestic situation here at Mardi Gras.” Orr had threatened his ex-wife, who was riding on a float, from the parade route as the festivities were underway, Battiste said. The chief asked anyone in the public who knew Orr or spotted him to call police. “Don’t harbor him. Please notify us,” Battiste said. Orr was taken into custody around 10 p.m., Fox 10 reported. Court records obtained by the news station show Orr was arrested Feb 18, just six days before the shooting, on domestic violence charges. The documents indicate the victim, Orr’s ex-wife, told police he had beat her, kicking her in the face, in October 2018. Orr was released on bail three days before the double shooting, AL.com reported. “This is a prime example of, potentially, where somebody may not should have had access to bail because of the offense he committed,” Battiste said. “Once a person has identified themselves as a shooter, it’s kind of hard to get them to stop.” Anthony Orr is escorted to jail by police officers in the video below, courtesy of WKRG in Mobile.  Alabama legislators are seeking to pass a constitutional amendment denying bail to suspects accused of violent Class A felonies. The bill, which the Montgomery Advertiser reported was approved last week by the state House Judiciary Committee, is named after Aniah Blanchard, a 19-year-old college student who was abducted from an Auburn convenience store and killed in October. At the time of Blanchard’s abduction, the man accused of the crime, Ibraheem Yazeed, was free on $295,000 bond, the Advertiser reported. Yazeed, 29, had been charged with attempted murder, kidnapping, robbery and drug charges in a January 2019 attack on two men at a Montgomery hotel. He now faces the death penalty in Blanchard’s abduction and shooting death. “We really believe the constitutional amendment will speak to this type of issues that we’re dealing with tonight,” Battiste said. “We shouldn’t be dealing with something like this if this guy had a history that indicated he should have been denied bail.” Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said Monday night that there were people who knew prior to the shooting that Orr had threatened his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. “There was enough information to be conveyed that this was an actual, valid threat. He was intending to carry out this threat,” Stimpson said. Battiste and James Barber, the city’s public safety director, told Fox 10 that Orr had threatened the victims Sunday night and Monday afternoon. He also actively tried to gain access to weapons throughout the day Monday, Barber said. “There are other people that knew there was a threat to kill the deceased, so it would have been very helpful if somebody had reached out to us. And maybe somebody had, but we haven’t been able to confirm that,” Stimpson said. “If you know that somebody has been threatened with their life and you know there’s a history of violence, you’ve got to tell us if you expect us to do something about it.” Police officials and the mayor tried to assuage paradegoers’ fear as the city prepared for Fat Tuesday, the final and biggest day of Mardi Gras season. “If anything, because of this situation, there is a heightened awareness on our part that we can’t let our guard down coming into the last day of Mardi Gras,” Stimpson said. “That’s when things can happen that you don’t expect to happen. But we have got everything that we have out there trying to make sure that everybody is safe.” >> Related story: Woman run over by Mardi Gras float dies The mayor urged the public to pray for the victims and their families. “How does your heart not break for those who have been shot?” he said. Court records obtained by AL.com show Orr’s divorce was finalized in September. In the woman’s March 2019 filing, she alleged he had been verbally, emotionally and physically abusive. The woman had obtained a protection from abuse order the year before, the news site reported. Orr pleaded guilty in August 2019 to resisting arrest, a charge that stemmed from a March incident in which his ex-wife called the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office to report he was breaking into her home. Deputies found him near the home, and when he refused to follow their commands, they stunned him with a Taser. “As we were helping Anthony Orr to his feet he made the statement he always wondered what a taser felt like and wondered if it really worked,” a deputy wrote in an arrest report, according to AL.com. “(Orr) stated that he is a believer now.”
  • A great white shark fitted last summer with a satellite tag has surprised researchers by showing up in the Gulf of Mexico and swimming past the mouth of the Mississippi River. The shark, a female named Unama’ki, has traveled 3,120 miles in 103 days, beginning in Nova Scotia, the Sun Herald reported. The 2,076-pound, 15-foot, 5-inch shark has been tracked by OCEARCH, a marine research group, according to WXXV. The shark has been lingering off the Louisiana coast and is heading toward Texas, according to the Sun Herald. “Is this a whole new piece to the white shark puzzle?” OCEARCH tweeted Monday. Earlier this month, Unama’ki was pinged about 100 miles from the Florida coast, Northwest Florida Daily News reported. In October, she was pinged off the coast of North Carolina near the Outer Banks, according to WVEC. Unama’ki was last pinged on satellite tracking at 7:12 a.m. Sunday, off Louisiana’s Marsh Island, according to OCEARCH. “She’s a shark on the move!” OCEARCH tweeted.