Too close to home

Published 5:49 pm Monday, May 21, 2018

On Friday morning, a 17-year old high school student named Dimitrios Pagourtzis walked in the front door of Santa Fe High School armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver that he had taken from his father. Half an hour later, 10 of his classmates lay dead, murdered in cold blood.

On that same morning, 1,136 miles away, a student walked through the front doors of Washington High School with a loaded handgun concealed in his backpack. While this student, who has not been named due to his age, may have lacked the violent intentions that drove Pagourtzis to commit murder, the potential for tragedy was still very real.

For any parent, student or community member, this is an uncomfortable parallel to draw. We like to think that this wouldn’t happen in a place like Beaufort County. We hope and pray daily that our students are safe in their educational environment.

The situation in Texas ended in a senseless loss of life, adding to a long list of shootings committed on school campuses. The situation at Washington High School, fortunately, had a better outcome.

Thanks to diligent police work by the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office, as well as cool responses on the part of WHS staff members, a potentially deadly situation was averted.

While secured entryways and the presence of school resource officers go a long way toward ensuring school security, the situation on Friday shows that it is still possible to bring a gun on campus at one of our county’s high schools.

So now, the question that faces the nation echoes in Beaufort County — how do we stop this from happening?

Do we install metal detectors and security guards/SROs at the front doors of every school? Do we outfit every student in Beaufort County with clear backpacks? Do we redouble our mental health efforts to identify and provide treatment for children at risk of committing violence?

That we even have to think about such measures is a saddening sign of the times, but it is a conversation that needs to happen. Locally, a school safety committee made up of county officials and education leaders is working to address this very issue.

While establishing protocols and responses to potentially dangerous situations is key, preventing those situations from arising in the first place is the even greater challenge.

As community members, each of us must do our part to keep our schools safe. As the adage goes, if you see something, say something. Whether passing remarks about violence or social media posts making overt threats, reporting details of threats to law enforcement and school officials may help prevent a tragedy.

According to information provided from the BCSO, the handgun that ended up at WHS on Friday had two rounds in the magazine. Under different circumstances, that might have been two lives lost.