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Mass Shootings Group Hears About Freeman Response

Freeman School District/MSI Engineers

Washington is not immune to the mass shooting phenomenon that has rolled through the country. The state has created a Mass Shootings Work Group. The committee was formed after the Parkland school shooting in Florida.

The committee met in Spokane Wednesday and one of the items on the agenda was last September’s fatal shooting at Freeman High School.

State Patrol Captain Jeff Otis and Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich gave a detailed description of the law enforcement response at Freeman. Knezovich said, after the shooting and the suspect was detained, deputies worked with school district staff to escort high school students to the football field and then, 10-by-10, they ferried parents in to reunite with their kids.

“I had just taken 10 parents down to the football field, went back up to get another 10 when I noticed a lady walking directly toward me. The way she was walking, the look in her eye, I knew that this was not going to go well. The school had tried diligently to get a hold of that parent. When she reached me, she asked me where Sam was and she read me like a book. At that point, it seemed like the world froze because a mother’s scream is something that you’ll never forget,” Knezovich said.

Sam Strahan, of course, was the young man who was killed.

Knezovich told the group the immediate response to the shooting, from both his department and the school district, worked well.
“One of the keys to that success was the Freeman School District really had a dialed-in plan. They knew what to do. They had just exercised that plan the day before," he said.

"With that in mind, I contacted my superintendents of all the school districts in the jurisdiction that the sheriff’s office deals last spring and asked them to work on one thing over the summer with my staff and that’s a consistency in the response plans for all of the schools, so we know what’s going to happen," Knezovich said. "All schools are going to have a little bit different flavor. There’s going to be differences in how things are going to go, but an overarching coordination of those efforts is a must if we’re going to be able to respond and deal with these things in a coordinated manner.”

Knezovich also called for armed marshals to supplement resource officers already posted in many of Spokane’s schools.

“The concept of a school marshal is basically an armed security. One of the biggest stumbling blocks I see in that is going to be the school’s liability insurance. Who’s going to buy that liability?" he asked. "I’m more than happy to do the commissioning, the limited commission on that, the training, but it’s going to be the liability piece is what we’re going to have to overcome.”

Knezovich also called on school districts to work with his departments when they design new schools to develop the best security arrangements.

But all of those measures, he told the working group, will only have a limited effect if Washington doesn’t solve its mental health issues. He says the state must make it easier to remove weapons from people who have mental health issues. As far as the schools…

“Until you give the schools, the teachers, the ability to control their classes again, until you give principals the ability to control their buildings again, don’t expect this to go away," Knezovich said. "Any time that you have rules that say if somebody’s having an issue, you simply remove the rest of the class and let an individual destroy a classroom, you know you have a problem. And that’s not hyperbole; my wife works in the schools and that’s exactly what they tell her. There are some people that should not be in school.”

Knezovich believes disruptive students should be removed from school and only allowed to return after the student goes through a series of steps that reinforce that he or she is safe to be back in a school environment.

The Mass Shootings Work Group is holding a series of meeting this year before making recommendations to the legislature on how to intervene and prevent mass shootings.