"It's important that we talk about what to do in a 'code red,' " Bittner said, "that we know what to do in a situation like that: If the shooter's inside, we get the kids outside, and if the shooter's outside, we get the kids inside. We practice things like lockdowns so kids know what to do, where to go."

At a staff meeting after dismissal Monday, Bittner said, she and her staff further reviewed professional development on social media monitoring and bullying. Catonsville High will address any student questions or concerns on an individual, case-by-case basis — and if a student wants to talk, the school has five counselors and a school resource officer on staff, as well as the teachers who are always willing to listen, she said.

"Our doors are always open," Bittner said. "I know students here feel comfortable going to their teachers."

When children are upset


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Unfortunately, said Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, the situation at Perry Hall is no different from similar tragic situations at schools across the country; the problem, she said, is that children continue to be able to get their hands on guns, and some lack coping skills.

"When children are upset, they don't think through the consequences of their actions," she said. "They just know they're in a lot of pain."

Beytin said several teachers at Perry Hall reported an outpouring of support from the community, and that while the incident would be fresh in Perry Hall teachers' minds for a while, she didn't expect it to change "what they do and how they interact with their students."

County Councilman David Marks echoed that sentiment.

"Most people I'm talking to right now are a bit shocked, but are rallying around the larger school community," said Marks, who represents Towson and Perry Hall.

But Lawrence Schmidt, president of the county school board, said he expects to see some soul-searching.

"I think any time you have a situation like this, you have to do a retrospective and say, 'What in our emergency plans worked well and what needs to be changed in how you respond?'" said Schmidt, an attorney, who lives in Lutherville. "It's so preliminary, I don't know the details of what happened well enough to render an opinion," he said.

"You have to think about how you would react in this situation, so it's almost second nature, how to protect the kids," Bowler said. "It's too bad that we have to have these situations in this day and age."

Students around the county were a little shell-shocked at the news. Even before Bittner made her announcement at Catonsville High, "Most of us already heard about it through, you know, like cell phones," junior Evangeline Gallagher said. "It's totally shocking."

Towson High School made no announcement about the shooting, which parent Nancy Peper said was just as well.

"What were you going to do?" said Peper, first vice president of Towson High's PTSA. "It would be so hard to focus on school, and some (students) might be scared."

Sympathy for Dance

Peper said her children's reaction was much as her own.

"They were sad, and really felt for the students at Perry Hall," she said.

And she said that the ride home from school Monday evolved into a discussion of procedures that the children know of, if such an incident ever occurs at Towson High.

"Towson has very good procedures in place, and all the kids know what to do," Peper said.

There was also sympathy around the county for Dance and the school system, because Monday began as a celebration of the first day of school, record enrollment, a new superintendent and the new, $58 million replacement building for the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.

"I felt really bad for (Dance). It was such a rough start," she said. "But, of course, a lot rougher for those Perry Hall families."

Staff writers Pat van den Beemt, Jon Meoli and Liz Bowie of The Baltimore Sun contributed to this story.