04/18/07 — Sheriff: Officers would be prepared

View Archive

Sheriff: Officers would be prepared

By Lee Williams
Published in News on April 18, 2007 1:45 PM

Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders said Monday's shooting rampage at Virginia Tech that claimed 33 lives and wounded 15 others was one of the deadliest tragedies in U.S. history.

And he hopes the ordeal will inspire parents to become more vigilant with their children to prevent future deaths.

"All we can do is tell people to monitor their children's behavior," he said. "Be a nosy parent. Find out what they are listening to and find out who their friends are. But, sometimes that's not enough."

Winders and Goldsboro police Chief Tim Bell said their officers are trained to respond to an emergency like the one that broke out in Blacksburg, Va.

But Winders added nothing is foolproof.

In February, several police and sheriff's deputies participated in a mock rapid deployment drill at Eastern Wayne High School.

The state-mandated course teaches officers how to respond to an emergency such as a school shooting and how to deal with an active shooter on school grounds.

An officer's duty is to bypass any victims -- including one of their own -- and engage the shooter. The mission is to take the shooter out before he kills again, Winders explained.

Rapid deployment training was initiated after the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo. on April 20, 1999.

There, first responding officers were criticized because they did not intervene when they arrived. Instead, they waited for the SWAT team as they had been trained to do. But by then it was too late.

Twelve students and one teacher were killed. Twenty-four others were wounded before the two teenage gunmen killed themselves.

If there is a mass shooting at one of the Wayne's schools or colleges, law enforcement officials will be ready, they say.

However, Winders knows there could be limitations.

By the time police moved in on the shooter, identified as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, of Centreville, Va., a senior at Virginia Tech, he had killed dozens before turning the gun on himself.

Cho, a South Korean native, allegedly killed two at a college dormitory about 7:15 a.m. Two hours later, he apparently emerged at an engineering building and continued his shooting spree. Authorities said Cho used a 9 mm handgun and a .22-caliber handgun to carry out the attacks.

The shooting rampage that rocked Virginia Tech came four days before the eighth anniversary of Columbine.

"We're always prepared as best as we can be," Winders said. "Unfortunately, if someone has it in their mind to do something like this, it's kind of hard to prevent it unless there's some telltale signs. It's just like the suicide bombers in Iraq. If someone is committed to killing others and themselves no one can really stop them."

But if called, law enforcement officials will respond because they know lives are at stake.

He encouraged parents to monitor their children's movie and video game selection. Some of the movies and video games of today are violent and make children "callous" toward death, he said.

Winders also knows the community's first line of defense is not only parents -- but a student's friends.

"Even though parents are encouraged to talk to their children, oftentimes children confide in their friends rather than their parents, and that friend should take steps to contact the parent and make them aware of a problem their child is having," he said.

There's no exact science for a parent to determine if his or her child is capable of committing mass murder, but like in the Columbine High School massacre, warning signs were overlooked by the parents and school officials, some say.

According to the American Psychological Association, some of the warning signs your child might become violent include anger problems; frequent fighting; significant vandalism or property damage; increase in drugs or alcohol use; increase in risk-taking behavior; detailed plans to commit acts of violence; threatening to hurt others; enjoying hurting animals; and carrying a weapon.

Additionally, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry identified eight factors which might predict if your child could actually pull the trigger of a gun -- and harm others.

Among the factors are previous incidents of aggressive or violent behavior; history of physical abuse or sexual abuse; exposure to violence in the home or community; having a parent who is violent; heavy exposure to violence in TV and movies; use of drugs or alcohol; firearms in the home; and brain damage from a head injury.

Winders said residents are encouraged to notify law enforcement officials if someone they know has expressed a desire to kill themself or others.

Reporting on a tip about a potential threat to officers could help save lives, officials say.