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Despite ample school security plan, Texas shooter found gaps

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By Collin Binkley And Kantele Franko

Robb Elementary School had measures in place to prevent this kind of violence. A fence lined the school property. Teachers were ordered to keep classroom doors closed and locked. Students faced regular lockdown and evacuation drills.

But when an 18-year-old man arrived Tuesday at the school in Uvalde, Texas, intent on killing children, none of it stopped him.

Security failures allowed the shooter to massacre 19 students and two teachers, school safety experts say. The shooting already has led to calls to fortify schools further, on top of millions spent on equipment and other measures following earlier shootings. But more security offers drawbacks, with no guarantee of an end to mass violence. In the worst case, as in Uvalde, it could backfire.

“You can do the best job you can to prevent a school crisis, but we cannot read the minds of all the criminals who are out there,” said Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, a nonprofit that works with schools across the country. “We cannot prevent all crime.”

According to a district safety plan, Uvalde schools had a wide range of measures in place to prevent violence. The district had four police officers and four support counselors, according to the plan, which appears to be dated from the 2019-20 school year. The district had software to monitor social media for threats and software to screen school visitors.

Yet when the gunman arrived at the school, he hopped its fence and easily entered through a back door that had been propped open, officials said. Behind the locked door of a fourth-grade classroom, he gunned down children and teachers.

Amid the attack, nearly 20 officers stood in a hallway because the on-site commander believed the gunman was barricaded in the classroom and children were not at risk, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said at a Friday news conference, saying “it was the wrong decision.”

The case underscores that even the strongest security plans can be undermined by a seemingly simple lapse, said Curtis Lavarello, executive director of the School Safety Advocacy Council, which provides training on school safety. The Texas school appeared to be doing many things right, he said, but none of that mattered once the gunman was able to walk unobstructed into the building and into a classroom.

“All those things on paper mean nothing if they’re not followed in practice. And there seemed to be a number of gaps,” he said.

In the aftermath of the shooting, some Republicans have been calling for further investments in school safety to prevent more attacks. Some have pushed for more armed police in schools, along with metal detectors and measures to make it harder to enter schools.

Among those promoting physical security measures is Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas. Appearing on Fox News on Wednesday, he brought up 2013 legislation that would have created grants to help schools install bulletproof doors and hire armed police officers among other measures.

If those grants had gone to Robb Elementary, Cruz said, “the armed police officers could have taken him out and we would have 19 children and two teachers still alive.”

Security experts say the Uvalde case illustrates how fortifying schools can backfire. A lock on the classroom door — one of the most basic and widely recommended school safety measures — kept victims in and police out.

U.S. Border Patrol agents eventually used a master key to open the locked door of the classroom where they confronted and killed the gunman, McCraw said at the Friday news conference.

Some argue that investments in school security have come at the expense of student welfare. Lockdown drills that have become routine for a generation of American students have traumatized students and added to strains on mental health, educators say.

Schools need more counselors and psychologists to help troubled students, not stronger buildings, said Dewey Cornell, a psychologist and director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia.

“We have systemically reduced the number of support staff in our schools, and focused too much on installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras and electronic door locks, which are very short term and reactive and very expensive,” he said.

In the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, schools across the country began spending huge sums of money on fortifications including bulletproof glass, metal detectors and armed security.

But such measures can create an atmosphere where students feel uncomfortable and less trusting, and it does not necessarily prevent attacks, said Matthew Mayer, a Rutgers associate professor who works on issues related to school violence.

“You’ll go down these sort of endless rabbit holes of how much security is enough. And when it comes to someone who’s coming in heavily armed, you’re not going to stop them,” Mayer said. “So the idea is you need to figure out why people do this in the first place and have ways — multi-level systems of prevention — to prevent it from happening.”

He advocates for a multi-faceted prevention approach that also includes steps such as improving mental health services, assessing threats more effectively and building trust so students and families are not afraid to speak up if they’re concerned someone has the means or intent to cause harm.

Still, schools can only do so much, he said, and he isn’t optimistic that public outrage over Uvalde will lead to significant change.

“The problem is that a lot of this public reaction, you know, sort of rises like a wave and then recedes over time, and the politicians have been accustomed to riding that out. You know, they make speeches and so forth, and sometimes there’s a commission that gets appointed, and they issue reports,” Mayer said. “But substantive change is lacking.”

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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Alberta

Calgary police charge teen accused of trying to hire someone to murder another youth

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Calgary police are accusing a 16-year-old of trying to hire someone to kill another youth.

Police say in a release that they began investigating last month after getting a complaint.

After a six-week investigation, police say officers gathered enough evidence to support charging the teen.

Staff Sgt. Colin Chisholm says the allegations are disturbing and police are thankful they could investigate before anything tragic happened.

The teen was arrested on Tuesday and is charged with counselling to commit murder, breach of a court order and possession of marijuana.

The suspect cannot be named under provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

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Alberta

Alberta judge finds man guilty of manslaughter in death of one-year-old son

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By Daniela Germano in Edmonton

An Alberta judge has found a man guilty of manslaughter in the death of his one-year-old son as well as of assaulting his young daughter.

The man’s lawyer argued in court that the father should be found not criminally responsible for his son’s death in November 2019.

Rory Ziv argued that a severe sleep disorder put the man from Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., in a state of automatism, which made him incapable of understanding his actions when he killed his son and injured his daughter, who was five at the time.

There is a publication ban on identifying the girl because she is a minor.

The man testified at trial that he has no memory of hurting his children, saying he fell asleep on the couch while caring for them. He said he dreamt he was being attacked and awoke to find that he injured his children.

A sleep expert also testified at trial after examining the man two years following the boy’s death. Dr. Colin Shapiro said he found “thumbprints” of parasomnia, a disorder in which people do things while asleep that they are unaware of, such as sleepwalking.

Shapiro testified he saw multiple arousals during the man’s deep sleep.

The man was initially charged with second-degree murder, but the prosecution asked the judge to consider a verdict of manslaughter instead.

Crown attorney Sandra Christensen-Moore said at trial earlier this month that evidence suggested the man was intoxicated at the time of the attack, which would affect his ability to form the intent needed for second-degree murder.

In announcing his verdict Wednesday, Justice John Henderson said it was more likely that the accused was suffering from severe withdrawal symptoms from his opioid addiction and lashed out at his children.

Court heard that the man has a history of substance abuse with cocaine, alcohol, heroin and prescription opioids. He admitted to self-medicating his back pain with heroin and illegally obtained Percocet.

Henderson said the man got into an argument with is partner the day of his son’s death and threw a plate in the woman’s direction because they did not have enough money for him to buy cigarettes.

“Certainly there is no doubt on the evidence that (the man) was having serious sleep difficulties and serious back pain at the time of these events,” the judge said.

“I’m also satisfied that the evidence is very clear that he was experiencing other stressors, including financial issues and relationship issues. He was also experiencing significant symptoms of heroin withdrawal.”

But Henderson said the defence was not able to prove that the man was in a state of automatism when he attacked his children.

“While I am satisfied that there is some evidence that could potentially support the conclusion of automatism, when I consider the totality of the evidence, I find it is not possible to come to that conclusion.”

The father is to be sentenced at a later date.

The judge said the man, who was prone to explosive outbursts, adapted his story about what happened the day of his son’s death as a way to rationalize his behaviour.

Henderson said such rationalization was most evident in the “evolving story” of the man’s dream of being teleported and attacked by a shadow creature during which he was trying to protect his children.

“This story did not exist for more than one year after (the boy’s) death and it only began evolving thereafter.

“The story was crafted to satisfy a narrative that would lead to a conclusion of automatism.”

Henderson noted that a forensic psychologist testified that the man had unresolved anger issues.

The judge said the man became overwhelmed by his situation and burst out in an aggressive and disproportionate manner when striking his children.

“I conclude that this explanation is for the attack is much more likely than the conclusion of automatism.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 29, 2022.

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