Keeping children safe during sniper attacks

Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie saw an increased police presence a day after a sniper shot a 13-year-old boy outside of the school. (WTOP)

WASHINGTON – From the moment news broke that five people were murdered in random shootings in Montgomery County, parents wanted to know how schools would keep their children safe.

While police launched their investigation, school officials like Larry Bowers were tasked with managing a school system of more than 132,000 students.

Bowers, the system’s chief operating officer, says the community was very frightened.

“They were worried about allowing their children to actually walk to the bus stops” or walk to school, says Bowers. “I think the challenge was the unknown, the uncertainty.”

On Oct. 3, when four people were murdered, the schools were locked down. Movement in and outside the buildings was controlled. And, as the drama continued, other facets of school life changed too.

“We were having teams practice inside … we really did have to curtail activities,” says Bowers.

The days were stressful. Administrators began and ended every day with briefings.

“It was really high alert,” recalls Bowers.

In neighboring Prince George’s County, fears escalated when the unthinkable happened: A child was caught in the snipers’ crosshairs.

Thirteen-year-old Iran Brown, a student at Benjamin Tasker Middle School in Bowie, was shot and critically injured.

Brown eventually recovered and, after the snipers were arrested, the community began to heal.

Everyone wanted to return to normal.

“But as we know, it never really went back to normal after that,” Bowers says.

The legacy of events like Sept. 11 and the snipers’ spree would show itself in the measures schools take to ensure the safety of students.

Bowers says as a direct result of the sniper attacks, coordination with police has intensified, and table-top exercises have been conducted “to make sure that we are prepared for any type of emergency, particularly something that would be similar to the sniper case.”

See all of WTOP’s past and present D.C. Sniper coverage in this special section:

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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