Three shootings on U.S. college campuses have claimed 11 lives this month, and the fear they inspired hit close to home Oct. 12 when Cheraw police found a handgun in a Northeastern Technical College student’s backpack.
The revolver was unloaded, no ammunition was found and the suspect told authorities the weapon was carried to class by mistake, but all incidents involving guns on school grounds are taken seriously in the wake of violent attacks across the nation.
Police Chief Keith Thomas said Northeastern Tech administrators and the NETC security guard who detained 19-year-old Joshua Easterling of Bennettsville followed perfect protocol in their response to the incident.
“I have personally met with every school in Cheraw and the complete staff to talk about what they can do,” Thomas said. “We have been preparing for many years.”
Police hold active-shooter training exercises twice a year in Chesterfield County’s public schools. When school is not in session, officers use the facilities to practice.
Thomas said it’s important for each person to understand what everybody’s role is before anything happens.
“They need to know what their role is and why they need to follow policy and what to expect when officers arrive” in the event of an active shooter, Thomas said. “You need to survive the first two minutes, which is the time it takes to reach their location. We’ve done a lot of work. I am very proud. I wanted to be ahead of the game.”
Chesterfield County Sheriff Jay Brooks said his deputies are also training continuously and work closely with the police department.
Just last week, Brooks attended an active-shooter training course offered through the FBI and said he will be sharing the information with the sheriff’s office staff.
“We don’t take any domestic calls at any school or technical college lightly,” he said.
This is especially true with the growing trend of shootings at technical colleges and universities. A lot of them, he said, have been domestic assaults, but some of the attacks have been random.
Eight students and an instructor were killed and nine people were injured Oct. 1 after a gunman opened fire at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The suspect committed suicide after exchanging gunfire with police, according to media reports.
Two students were gunned down in a pair of Oct. 9 shootings, one near a Northern Arizona University dorm and the other outside a dorm at Texas Southern University.
Brooks said his school resource officers keep their ears to the ground listening for information about possible fights or weapons.
Moving beyond the schools, Brooks said Chesterfield County sheriff’s deputies are doing the same thing for churches. In the next couple of weeks, the sheriff’s office will be visiting churches throughout the county to offer active-shooter training after nine worshipers were killed June 17 at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
The sheriff and Cheraw police chief both said the best defense against active-shooter attacks is for law enforcement and the public to be as prepared as possible.
Reach Maria D. Grandy at 843-537-5261.