Here’s what went wrong last Wednesday: A man boarded a Salem (Mass.) State University shuttle bus and attacked a student with a knife. The bus driver intervened and was also slashed. Fortunately, neither was injured seriously, but the man escaped, triggering an extensive police search.
After that, however, a lot of things went right.
In the weeks to come, there probably will be a few post-mortems to determine how everyone — the university, the city, the campus and city police forces, and the public schools — responded to what could have been a tragedy. And as local officials review what happened, we’re sure they’ll identify some areas where they could improve.
But overall, the view from here is that local officials responded just the way you would hope they would, acting quickly to identify and search for the suspect, safeguard the community, inform the public and avert a panic.
Salem Police and University Police acted quickly and in tandem, and were assisted by a number of Marblehead officers, including the chief of police, who came over to help. Not only did they have the Salem State community to protect, but the children in the on-campus Horace Mann Elementary School. Police not only monitored children boarding buses and being picked up by parents as the school day ended, but they personally drove other children to their homes so that no child was walking in the neighborhood while the suspect was at large.
Good security planning was evident from the get-go. Police were first notified of the bus incident at 11:10 a.m., and security alerts started going out to the university community 35 minutes later — by text, email and telephone. Lockdowns on the campus at the Horace Mann School appeared to go without a hitch, as police searched for the suspect.
Throughout it all, both the police and the university press office kept the public informed. They were accessible and candid in answering questions and providing as much information as possible, not only in person but through Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The Salem schools made sure parents of Horace Mann children were informed, in both English and Spanish. All of that did a lot to dampen rumors and prevent a sense of panic.
We were lucky that, in the grand scheme of things, no great harm was done. But anything could have happened, particularly if the assailant had been carrying a gun instead of a knife. Much of the credit must also go to the bus driver who intervened to stop the attack, at great personal risk.
It’s good to know that the public safety of students on the university campus is in such capable hands. We offer our thanks to all who worked so hard to ensure the safety of others.
Job well done.