BY: JAMIE NASH
As the frequency of mass shootings continues to increase, one Montgomery County school district has decided not to wait until tragedy strikes to take action. Law enforcement servicing the area around Magnolia ISD is now better equipped than ever to deal with a situation involving a shooter inside a school, thanks to the efforts of two members of the Texas Department of Public Safety who created an innovative new tool.
On Friday, DPS Sgt. Derek Leitner and DPS Trooper Eric Lopez met with Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, Precinct 5 Constable David Hill, MISD Superintendent Dr. Todd Stephens, Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jason Bullock, and Director of Student Services Rob Stewart to show them the recently completed Rapid Response Cards for law enforcement in their district. Magnolia ISD funded the project, which was recommended by Constable Hill, whose office provides campus security for the district.
Sgt. Leitner called Constable Hill’s office “a progressive agency” for their desire to get the Rapid Response Cards into the hands of law enforcement in their area.
“This has been a good collaborative effort,” Leitner said.
The cards are 5×7 inches, heavy stock, with a sharp, full-color aerial photo of the campus on one side and a floor plan on the other. They also list Key Map pages and latitude and longitude coordinates in case air support is required. Every set has a card for each of the 16 schools in Magnolia ISD.
“The floor plan lists room numbers, but doesn’t have information that could jeopardize the safety of the schools or students,” Lopez said.
The cards have just enough information so that officers can find a specific common area, hallway, or classroom if someone on the inside is able to get a message out, or if officers are inside the building communicating with one another, or those outside. However, Lopez said, if a set of the cards somehow fell into the wrong hands, there are no details such as teachers’ names, subjects, passcodes or other information that might assist someone in making illegal entry or finding a particular student or staff member.
Each of the 80 card sets is on a ring, attached to a special-ordered blue carabineer, engraved with the words, “STOP THE KILLING,” and can be clipped anywhere for the officer’s convenience.
Leitner and Lopez created the first set for East Montgomery County with funding from the District Attorney and Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts, who were very pleased with the outcome. The two DPS veterans are currently working on card sets for other school districts outside of Montgomery County who heard about the cards and contacted them. They believe law enforcement in every school district should be equipped with the potentially lifesaving tool. Just as in East Montgomery County, every law enforcement vehicle that serves the Magnolia ISD and might respond to one of the schools in the event of an active shooter situation will now be equipped with a set of the cards and Leitner said some were also reserved in case of an emergency requiring a SWAT Team to enter one of the schools.
The DA, known for his tough stance on all types of crime and his dogged determination to make Montgomery County a safer place to live, was thrilled to be a part of and contribute to the innovative project.
Although this country’s most recent mass shootings occurred at workplaces and a movie theater, in the past, many have taken place on school campuses, with the most infamous being the 1999 Columbine massacre in Littleton, Colorado.
In a situation like Columbine, law enforcement has the disadvantage of a shooter or shooters with an intimate knowledge of the floor plan of the building or group of buildings. The shooters in that incident had the run of the campus for around 50 minutes, during which they killed 13 people, injured 21, and terrorized and forever traumatized dozens more before committing suicide and ending the carnage.
Sgt. Leitner said such incidents were the inspiration for the idea he and Trooper Lopez developed.
“Day after day, in the media we saw all these active shooters throughout the country, and in studying how to combat them, we realized one of the most important factors is a timely response,” Leitner said.
When every second counts, having maps to take out some of the guesswork could save untold lives, he said.
“It’s all around us,” Leitner said. “The incidents in California and Colorado were not anomalies- it’s coming this way.”
When the county’s first cards were distributed in East Montgomery County, Sgt. Leitner noted in March, after Trey Sessler of Magnolia was apprehended for the shooting deaths of his parents and older brother, investigators found evidence he was planning a mass shooting in a public place– possibly at a school.
Leitner said the cards have already been tested with school district police on East County campuses over the summer, and the East Montgomery County Rapid Response Cards proved very effective. He said they hope to later train with an active shooter scenario and involve all of law enforcement on the east side.
“We want people to know we’re not just waiting to be reactive – we’re taking a proactive stance and trying to prevent these shootings from happening,” Lopez said. “Unfortunately, we also have to be prepared for when it does happen and to make sure there are tools out there that can help us.”
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, during the 2005-2006 school year, across the nation 55 percent of school expulsions involved students determined to have brought a handgun to school. The percentage was 53 during the 2006-2007 school year. During both school years, 12 percent involved a rifle or shotgun.