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December 14, 2012

Local schools try to prepare for the worst

While many were horrified at the tragic killings yesterday at a Connecticut elementary school, local officials were also asking themselves: Could it happen here? Are we ready to stop it?

Local principals, superintendents and police chiefs say they have plans in place — but they are plans they hope they never have to use.

“This shows why we have a police officer in every school,” said Methuen Mayor Stephen Zanni.

Like many school leaders yesterday, St. Augustine Elementary School Principal Paula O’Dea was stunned.

“I couldn’t believe this happened at an elementary school,” said O’Dea, who heads the parochial school in Andover. “It just brought tears to my eyes.”

In Methuen, and many other communities, each school is locked in the morning, and people cannot enter without being buzzed in. Each school has a police officer, and often practices drills for such emergency situations.

“Obviously there are no guarantees in life ever, but if there’s anything we can put in place, we have it in place,” Police Chief Joseph Solomon said.

Haverhill Superintendent James Scully said the schools need to be “extra vigilant.” Haverhill schools also buzzers, video cameras and other security devices.

However, no matter how vigilant the schools are, Scully pointed out, “You still have people that get in.”

In light of yesterday’s events, Haverhill police Deputy Chief Donald Thompson is reviewing security procedures. It’s “too soon to say,” he said, whether police and school officials will make any changes in security policies.

Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said that school security is “high on everyone’s list.”

“This is just unbelievable,” he said. “It’s just unfathomable what these families are going through.”

In Lawrence, Romero said, the schools and the police have a cooperative relationship. Many of the schools and police departments contacted for this story also talked about having good working relationships, which helps when they must plan for the unthinkable.

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