Frederick High shooting happens amid increased school security

The shooting of two teenagers Wednesday at a Frederick high school was particularly unnerving for a growing city in a largely rural county where many couldn't remember this ever happening before.

Shots were fired in the parking lot of Frederick High School while junior varsity teams played a basketball game inside the gym. A frightened crowd of about 200 was ushered into the cafeteria while paramedics cared for two injured students, who were transported by helicopter to Johns Hopkins Hospital.


The violence underscores a chilling reality — that even as schools extend increasingly stringent security measures from school hours through after-school events and extracurricular activities, it can happen anywhere and anytime.

Frederick has implemented many of the security measures that have become standard in city and suburban school systems in the Baltimore region.


Officials have conducted regular student surveys to identify potential problems, developed protocols for what happens in the event of a shooting, and posted security officers at many school events, including two at the gym Wednesday night.

"What happened does not define, in any way, what Frederick High School is all about," Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent Theresa Alban said. "We all know that there are issues many times that are out there in the community that sometimes spill into our schools. That's exactly what happened yesterday."

On Thursday the school system closed Frederick High, which had become a crime scene, as well as nearby West Frederick Middle School to students. Both will reopen Friday.

Frederick Police have not identified the suspects who fled on foot after shooting two teenage students, nor have authorities pinpointed a motive.

The injuries of the two wounded students were not considered life-threatening as of late Wednesday.

Some students have reported to police that the incident might have been gang-related or connected to two rival teams. Gov. Thomas Johnson High School was playing Frederick High, both located in the city of Frederick.

Investigators also are looking into reports from students who said they saw four or five males — dressed in big coats and with hands in their pockets — walk into the gymnasium during the game and leave shortly before the gunfire rang out, Frederick Police Capt. Richard Hetherington said.

School safety experts say that maintaining security not only requires posting police and security officers on campus but fostering a close communication between students and teachers or other school officials.

"Intelligence gathering is critical," said Bill Woodward, a national expert on school violence with the Safe Communities Safe Schools Initiative in Colorado. "In 90 percent of school shootings, someone knew about it ahead of time."

Woodward said his group has encouraged schools to conduct climate surveys that can identify whether students feel bullied or unsafe and to use the Safe2Tell phone line that allows students or parents to alert police to potential violence.

Students are promised anonymity and told they can call the phone line — set up by a nonprofit after the shootings at Columbine High School — at any time. Schools must sign up to participate in the program.

The calls are routed to a state's police barracks, but school officials also are notified. About 1,000 suicides have been prevented, Woodward said, and people have called hundreds of times saying they believe a school attack is planned.


Michael Doerrer, spokesman for Frederick County Public Schools, said teachers know "the best preventative tool they have is the relationship they develop with students and parents and the open communication they try to foster."

He said officials try to head off conflict, but in this case they didn't anticipate violence. "There was no warning that anything like this was going to happen," he said.

Woodward said most shootings occur outside of school. Many schools try to remain vigilant before and after classes.

In Baltimore County — where a shooting at Perry Hall High School on the first day of classes in 2012 sent a child to the hospital — principals, athletic directors, school resource officers and county police meet each July to review the year's schedule of events and identify situations that could be problematic.

Dale Rauenzahn, executive director for school safety in Baltimore County, said that when two rival teams are playing a big game or a talent show is expected to draw a large crowd, officials plan to assign extra staff, including county police and private security officers.

Rauenzahn said schools can select among a group of security vendors that use off-duty police officers, including those from Baltimore County.

Tim May, whose company, May Investigations, provided two unarmed security guards during the Frederick High game, said the school typically has an officer on campus during school hours and hires unarmed security guards during evening events. Police officers also may be stationed during football games.

"I'm hoping they find out this was not school related," May said. "Everyone was well pleased with the actions after the incidents. There is zero ways to prevent this. You can report it, you can protect. There's no guarantee. ... I don't know what could have been done differently."

Frederick County Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater, an elementary school teacher, said the incident in the close-knit community will likely mean a review of security procedures, even though she believes the school system handled the incident well.

"I am sure this will spark a conversation about how to deal with situations that arise," she said.

In a video posted on YouTube on Thursday, Alban and school board President Brad Young addressed the matter. Alban said the shooting occurred outside the gymnasium and that several students who had been outside at the time of the shooting returned to the gymnasium lobby.

"This, obviously, created some fear to those that were in the basketball game," Alban said. "Our police officers responded quickly and immediately. There was a lockdown put in place at the school. Students, parents, staff members were asked to move into the cafeteria so that the police could begin their investigation."

Alban said that administrators from both schools were on the scene and worked with police.

In Baltimore County, the school system encourages the athletic directors and principals from both schools to attend large sporting events, in addition to teachers. When students see administrators and officers whom they know, they tend to behave better, Rauenzahn said.

"We want security, but we want them open enough that the community is welcome to come and partake in the activities," he said.

Baltimore City schools spokeswoman Edie House-Foster said school police are responsible for security at after-school events and activities. But in most area suburban counties, school systems use local police officers and contract with security firms that provide officers.


In Anne Arundel County, police spokesman Lt. T.J. Smith said county police staff after-school events. He said that school resource officers, who are assigned to all 12 county high schools and some middle schools, often are dispatched to those events as well.


In Howard County schools, security coordinator Kevin Burnett said the system contracts with the police department to have two officers at after-school events for a minimum of four hours. School resource officers are staffed at each high school and six middle schools, and the school system also contracts with a security company.

Carroll County schools spokeswoman Carey Gaddis said that the system uses off-duty and retired police officers to patrol after-school events.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jessica Anderson contributed to this article.

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