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Gwinnett parents feel safe but wary after Conn. tragedy

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Norcross Police officer Natalia Watson checks out a car that pulls onto the campus of Norcross Elementary School on Monday afternoon. The Department is working with local schools to patrol the campuses in the city limits following Friday's school shooting in Connecticut.

Staff Photo: Jason Braverman Norcross Police officer Natalia Watson checks out a car that pulls onto the campus of Norcross Elementary School on Monday afternoon. The Department is working with local schools to patrol the campuses in the city limits following Friday's school shooting in Connecticut.

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In this 2012 file photo following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., two patrol cars sit outside of Benefield Elementary School in Lawrenceville. Gwinnett Police agreed to work with Gwinnett County Public Schools to have officers at local schools following the incident.

SUWANEE -- As Christine Muller drove her 6-year-old son, Jack, to day care early Monday, she was all too aware of the silence.

It was the first morning since Friday that she'd left home with the Cooper Elementary first-grader, and everything seemed "strange."

"We got in the car, and I felt very anxious," said Muller, a Grayson resident. "As we drive in the morning, we're usually talking back and forth, and we sing along to the radio, but it wasn't that way this morning. I was trying to think of something to say to him."

Each time she tried, her voice cracked. All that came out: "We love you very much, Jack."

Following Friday's tragedy in Connecticut, many local parents like Muller said the drive to school Monday was an emotional time that left them feeling apprehensive. Police have responded to the concerns of the community by increasing their presence at all local public and private schools.

Sloan Roach, a spokesperson for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said that in addition to county police, officers from local agencies such as Lilburn, Suwanee, Norcross and other municipal officials are "providing support to our schools."

Capt. Brian Harr of the Norcross Police Department said officials are there "as a visible presence ... we've had officers there since schools opened today. They get out and make contact with principals and greet kids and parents at the door. It's been positive."

He added that there is "typically a good presence at the schools anyway, but we wanted to bring out additional staffing."

Roach said if parents drive by their children's school and see police cars, it's more than likely the reason.

"They're not there because of any incidents," Roach said. "It's a proactive step, and we feel like it will help alleviate some of the concerns."

Brandy Suber, the parent of a kindergarten student at Duncan Creek, said she felt relieved to see uniformed Gwinnett police at her child's school.

Muller said it did help knowing there were police watching over the schools Monday as she and Jack resumed the daily routine: a ride with mom to day care, followed by a bus trip to Cooper Elementary.

Upon arriving at day care Monday morning, Muller said she could see that she was not alone in her initial feelings of apprehension.

"You could tell, looking at the other parents," she said. "It was like nobody was smiling this morning. They were looking at each other, like, 'I know what you're thinking.'"

Indeed, others sensed it.

Samantha Frost walked her children to the bus stop Monday morning and "held their hands a little tighter and took a little more time giving them goodbye hugs and kisses."

Frost, whose 6- and 9-year-old girls attend Taylor Elementary, said she wished she had a good excuse to keep her children home from school on Monday in light of the tragedy.

"I'll continue to pray for the parents in Newtown, that they will have peace and comfort at this awful time," Frost added.

A killing frenzy in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead last week at Sandy Hook Elementary was so horrifying that authorities cannot say whether the school will ever reopen.

On Sunday, President Barack Obama pledged to seek change in memory of those slain Friday by a gunman packing a high-powered rifle. The president slowly recited the names of the children.

At the local level, leaders with the district said the tragedy is a topic that school counselors are equipped and ready to discuss with parents.

"Some of the best counselors in the nation are in our schools, and they are making sure they have up-to-date resources and information," Roach said. "If we have any parents or families who need help in learning how to talk to children about these things, they can contact their counselor. We encourage them to do so."

Principals from all over the district encouraged parents to do the same. Riverside Elementary Principal Craig Barlow reached out to parents on Monday in a letter he sent home with students.

"None of us can really understand why something like this occurs," Barlow wrote. "That said, it is understandable that our students may be confused or worried by information they may have seen in the news media or conversations they overheard. If you should have questions on how to talk to your child about this topic, please contact our school counselors as they have a number of resources that may be helpful to you."

In his letter, Barlow also reassured parents that the school continues to focus on the safety of students.

"Even though (Newtown, Conn.) is over 900 miles from our school, this incident has elevated the focus on safety and security at Riverside Elementary and at all schools."

Muller is thankful that her son, Jack, attends Cooper Elementary, a learning institution she feels is a "wonderful and safe school."

But still, she couldn't help but wonder Monday afternoon how her first-grader was doing.

"It's been hard to get through this day," Muller said late Monday morning. "I know the schools are doing everything possible, and I know the extra officers are checking in ... but I think about my son, and I think about what happened in Connecticut, and he could have been one of those kids. It's just so horrendous."

Comments

kevin 1 year, 3 months ago

That is all this is about; "feeling" safe. Law enforcement failed in protecting the school in CT. Something or someone failed at the moment of stopping this nut from entering that school. The school admits the doors were locked and there were live cameras at the entrances. So how did this guy get in? The media reports that this nut "broke" into the school. Questions: 1) Was anyone looking at the live camera? 2) What were the the security guard(s) doing at the time of the break in? 3) Why wasn't the principal notified at that moment that something was going to happen? 4) Why didn't any leader in that school, besides the security guard(s), have a gun to stop this nut?

So what is next? The media and the government wants us to just "feel" safe, but in reality, only temporary additional police presence is taking place.

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Why_not 1 year, 3 months ago

Kevin, if you are speaking about the temporary police presence at schools here in Gwinnett instead of full time, I believe it was you a little over a week ago that implied that we had too many police officers in the county. With more than 100 schools to protect, what would your solution be? Each school resource officer has multiple schools to protect and I too would love to see one at each school but if that happened, you would be the first to complain about to many cops and higher taxes.....you can't have it both ways you know.

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rextim 1 year, 3 months ago

You have to learn to ignore Kevin. His opinions are based on little if any facts as witnessed in his post. It has been widely reported that the offender shot his way into the school. I would infer from this that he did not pick a lock on the front door to get in. The school under attack had no security guard. The principal was notified by bullets tearing into the school and was killed when she and others went to confront the gunman. As for his final point, the only guns in the school were possessed by the shooter.

He blames law enforcement for preventing this tragedy. I'd love to know how he came to such a conclusion. The school did not have a police officer (SRO) assigned to it. The fact is that Kevin is very anti-law enforcement based on his past posts. With such a blatant bias, I can't take his opinions seriously.

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chasmcjr 1 year, 3 months ago

In short, Kevin is an idiot. Ignore him.

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Why_not 1 year, 3 months ago

I had already figured out the "idiot" part as it applies to Kevin.

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dudley4141 1 year, 3 months ago

Amen Chasmcjr, Kevin is just making himself look like a donkie. I bet he would be the first one to run the other way in a crises situation.

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