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Grasping for answers to stop violence

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Local police and school officials have been hearing the same question time and again since Friday’s killing of 26 people at a Newtown, Conn., grade school.

“Are you doing everything you can to protect our children?”

Columbus Police Lt. Matt Myers and Lt. Jeff Williams, who heads the CPD SWAT team, said they believe they are.

But they also believe they are obligated to respectfully ask every member of the community that same question:

“Are you doing everything you can to protect our children?”

The facts indicate that most mass shootings are over by the time police arrive. That’s partially because assailants target schools, shopping malls or movie theaters where the shooter feels he won’t be confronted by armed resistance.

“We don’t even get the chance to stop it,” Myers said.

No single answer

In these cases, it will be up to people in the midst of a violent act to stop or limit the killing.

Myers and Williams emphasize that blaming mass killings on a single related issue won’t prevent what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School late last week from happening here.

“You don’t just point your finger at the schools, guns, bullying, law enforcement, or mental health,” Myers said. “It has to be everybody communicating, identifying people who have issues, and getting them help.”

Bartholomew Consolidated Schools Superintendent John Quick agreed that there is no simple answer.

“Complex issues call for complex solutions,” Quick said. “It will be a combination of things that can reduce, but may never eliminate, these senseless acts.”

The superintendent described the killing of mostly small children in Connecticut last Friday as an “act of evil.”

Both Myers and Williams agree, adding that such acts must be handled differently than a crime where the motive is greed and compliance with the criminal’s demands is encouraged by police.

“If you are facing evil, someone whose sole motivation is to kill, I encourage every citizen to stop them by any means possible,” Myers said. “In cases like this, if you don’t stop them, the chances are that you are going to die anyway.”

Williams elaborated on that point.

“The big thing you have to remember with an active shooting is that there isn’t just one intended victim. It’s not like if someone is breaking into your house and all you are saving is yourself,” Williams said.

“In a school, in a movie theater, in a church, there could be hundreds, if not thousands, of people who could be at risk.”

So if one person can stop the assailant, that act has the potential to save hundreds of lives, Williams said.

Look for patterns

Quick said he believes there are clear patterns of behavior that often lead to these types of violent acts.

“We need to address the illnesses in the shadows, the culture of guns and violence,” the superintendent said. “Those that struggle with fantasy and reality are often surrounded by video games and movies that are labeled as if violence is the norm. Add the presence of guns and the time bomb begins ticking.”

Neither Myers, Williams nor Quick feels that a lack of security at Sandy Hook Elementary was the problem.

“If you want to point fingers at the school last Friday, remember that the shooter fought his way inside,” Myers said.

“The doors were locked. You even had teachers come toward to confront the shooter. The school did everything they could.”

“Schools can not be prisons,” Quick said. “While we will review and improve our systems and facilities, security alone cannot be the solution.”

Communication key

For all three men, the answer boils down to three words: communicate, watch, report.

“We had a Central Middle School student assaulted on the way home by a home-schooled student last week,” Quick said.

“My guess is that someone at the school knew this was likely to happen due to social media. If that had been communicated, we would have intervened. Students are usually comfortable confiding in us.”

Myers and Williams add that communication is also a key factor with adults.

Williams said if adults see someone displaying unusual behavior, let law enforcement know — even if it’s a friend or someone in their own family.

“What we want is that people get proper treatment and proper medication,” said Columbus Police Chief Jason Maddix. “We (will) transport them to the hospital for an evaluation. We’ll also try to get their families involved.”

Maddix strongly advised all gun owners to make sure people with mental illnesses do not have access to weapons. He recommends that gun owners store their ammunition and weapons in different locations, both under lock and key.

Police officers also strongly urge family and friends to make sure people suffering from a mental illness are taking their medication. They say this is especially important for young people who have just left their parents’ care and might mistakenly believe they no longer need to keep up with prescriptions.

Maddix believes the most important thing people can do to fend off a potential tragedy is to be aware of their surroundings.

“It’s easy to not pay attention these days,” Maddix said. “It’s such a busy lifestyle. But sometimes, you have to step back and be vigilant. If you see something or hear something, if you see anything that raises a red flag, please report it. “

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