Worry and Fear Grips Schools and Parents in Wake of Newtown Shooting and Local Threats
Random and disturbing threats in the Chicago area followed the Newtown school killings, underscoring vulnerabilities and prompting discussions of gun control and guns for teachers.
The first day of school after the Sandy Hook School massacre brought a wave of fear, worry and outright threats to Chicago-area communities as educators and police sought to reassure people that efforts to protect their children would be redoubled.
Parents and educators everywhere were talking about school security even as incidents locally in the last three days underscored potential vulnerability. Here's a glimpse of what's taken place in the past few days.
In Downers Grove, parents discovered that schoolhouse doors were unlocked and flooded the district with calls. The school district decided to lock the doors this week and install temporary buzzers. Administrators will consider installing an advanced system. A buzzer and badge system is already in place at Glen Ellyn schools.
In Oak Lawn, police reviewed security procedures at public schools and parochial schools, and school officials were looking at the entry and exit doors to see what more could be done to prevent an intruder from entering the buildings.
Elmhurst saw an increased police presence at schools, with uniformed officers at school entryways and officers on foot patrol, including the chief of police. At York High School, entry and exit will be restricted to two doorways. And any student who opens a door for anyone will face disciplinary action, administrators told Patch.
Arrests and Threats
A trio of threats in the south suburbs underscored the raw nerves felt by many parents, with a police manhunt, a threat to shoot school children and another threat to kill school administrators.
Fears heightened Tuesday afternoon in the Tinley Park area as police, FBI and U.S. Marshals armed with automatic weapons roamed the streets hunting two escaped bank robbers believed to be armed and dangerous. Schools in Tinley Park and Oak Forest went on lockdown during the search, and schools in nearby Frankfort and Mokena went on soft lockdown, keeping the children inside during recess. Police officers were at the schools when classes ended for the day.
An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for a former Lincoln-Way High School teacher accused of telephoning his former bosses in New Lenox earlier this month and threatening to kill them. Ryan Gardner, 40, checked himself into a mental health ward at a Chicago hospital, however, he could have checked himself out at any time. He faces felony charges.
The arrest warrant was forwarded to the police department at University of Illinois Hospital, said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. When he is released from care, he will be taken to jail. Glasgow said the mass murder in Newtown, CT, made this case more urgent for him.
"In light of what happened in Connecticut, we have to be at a heightened level," he said.
Meanwhile, in Palos Hills, a man arrested on DUI charges early Monday morning told police he would soon be shooting schoolchildren, just like the killer in Newtown, and would also return to the police station for more shooting. Police went to 31-year-old Michael Lynch's Palos Hills home and confiscated his firearms and ammunition.
The governor said the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and other state agencies will review school safety programs throughout the state.
In Oswego, tensions have been high due to the possible threat of violence that was announced last Thursday in a school district-wide release. School administration has since said they and law enforcement found the rumors involving one high school and several junior highs to not be credible, although many parents via social media and comments have expressed concern of their children going to school on Dec. 21, the winter solstice.
More Guns or Gun Control?
Talked of increased security at schools also includes suggestions to arm teachers and others who work in the hallways. Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said schools should hire armed security guards and give teachers guns and weapons training.
"Somebody has to be there that can stop (an attacker) at that moment," Pearson said.
However, several lawmakers have changed their positions on gun control measures. And others, including the mayor of Chicago, say now is a crucial moment for our nation to enact a ban on automatic weapons.