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Catonsville High students, staff react to Perry Hall shooting

By Sara Toth, stoth@tribune.com

7:58 PM EDT, August 27, 2012

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At Catonsville High School, the first day of school was business as usual Monday, until the afternoon announcements.

"I went on the intercom, and told the students, 'there's been a tragic situation that has occurred,'" said Catonsville Principal Deborah Bittner. "'A student at Perry Hall (High School) has been shot, and is in critical condition, and there's no more information at this point.'"

Bittner said she knew her students would be going home and watching the news: that a 15-year-old Perry Hall student has been arrested after shooting a 17-year-old student, who had been taken to University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

"It's horrible, terrible," Bittner said. "Our sympathies go out to the students, their families and the staff."

Perry Hall is more than 20 miles from Catonsville High, but news spread instantly of the incident. So much so, said junior Evangeline Gallagher, that many students knew before Bittner even made the announcement.

"We didn't even officially hear about it until (Bittner) came on at the end of the day, but most of us already heard about it through, you know, like cell phones," Gallagher said. "They mentioned it in class, and our one teacher pulled it up (news coverage)."

Other students hadn't heard Bittner's announcement, and learned about the incident after school while waiting for the bus.

"This is the first I've heard of it," said Mackenzie Myer, a freshman. "It's totally shocking."

Gallagher said she wasn't concerned because "this seemed like an isolated incident."

Other students echoed Gallagher's thoughts.

"It's kind of concerning, since it's only the first day, and I don't know why (the shooter) did this, but our school is really safe," said Komal Ali, a senior. "So, I'm not too worried."

Sophomore Leah Hagan admitted the shooting was "pretty scary," but she has only ever heard good things about Catonsville.

Her friend, Madison Obeirne, a sophomore, said "nothing like that has ever happened here."

Catonsville student Yordanas Tesfa said her school was by no means a violent place.

"I've seen fights, but nothing like a shooting would happen here," she said.

Catonsville is a very safe, close-knit community, Bittner said, and the Perry Hall shooting was a reminder to focus on the school motto: be your best, do your best and create your best.

"This was an unforeseen event that could cross any school at any time, as we have seen across the nation," she said.

The shooting was also a reminder of vigilance, she said.

"It's made us think and re-think how we would handle something like this," Bittner said. "It's a reminder of vigilance.

"It's important that we talk about what to do in a code red, 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 staff further reviewed professional development on social media monitoring and bullying.

Bittner said the school would address any student questions or concerns on an individual, case-by-case basis.

If a student wants to talk, she said, the school has five counselors and a student resource officer on staff, as well as the teachers who are always willing to listen.

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