Kanapaha incident drives home the urgency of school security locally
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 6:26 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 19, 2012 at 6:26 p.m.
A stranger came onto the campus of Kanapaha Middle School on Wednesday, strolling through a physical education class of about 100 students before asking staff members for food and beer, authorities said.
The man, later identified as Anthony Edward Warn, 32, was told to leave the school at 5005 SW 75 St., but instead he stayed at a corner of the school.
Warn, who had a tattoo that said “Sniper,” was eventually arrested without incident for trespassing by the Alachua County Sheriff's Office.
In the aftermath of last week's elementary school slaughter in Connecticut, with school safety being the focus of a national conversation, the incident stunned local law enforcement officials.
“How does a person off the street make it into a (school) courtyard and a PE class with 100 students without being stopped, questioned and law enforcement being alerted quicker?” asked sheriff's Sgt. Todd Kelly.
“If this guy was armed and had intentions of harming students, he was never confronted until he was already in the presence of all of these students.”
The incident came a day after Alachua County law enforcement and school officials formed a working group to tackle school safety procedures in response to the school shootings in Newtown, Conn.
Superintendent Dan Boyd, Sheriff Sadie Darnell and the police chiefs of Alachua, Gainesville and High Springs agreed to ask state and federal agencies for money to have resource officers in local elementary schools. Resource officers are currently in middle and high schools.
The move mirrors action by the American Federation of School Administrators which on Wednesday urged the Obama administration to create a national task force on school safety.
It would create standards for best practices for school safety and for determining the training and money necessary for ensuring schools are equipped to provide the latest safety technology, according to a press release.
“Quite frankly, schools are still the safest places for children to be, but school resource officers serve a number of useful functions beside the important function of safety and security,” said Jackie Johnson, school district spokeswoman. “School resource officers develop a rapport with students and are often able to gather information that can prevent problems.”
On Friday, Adam Lanza, 20, fatally shot 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut before killing himself. A motive has not been determined.
High Springs Police Chief Steve Holley said he knows from experience that a dangerous situation can happen at any time on school grounds. In 2011, Robert Nodine, 64, the grandfather of a student at High Springs Community School, got into a shootout with police on the school's campus.
Nodine went to the school over a custody dispute. A school resource officer escorted Nodine to the parking lot, at which point Nodine went to his car and grabbed a bandolier belt with a gun in it, and put it around his waist, authorities said.
Nodine fired off a number of shots before he was hit. He was hospitalized for several weeks and later convicted of attempted manslaughter, assault and weapons charges
“It can happen at any time. It really doesn't matter where you are at. It happens wherever this person happens to be,” said Holley, who is a member of the working group. “One of the things that I thought was good about the group is that we talked about involving the mental health community for early detection,'' he said.
Some reports have stated that Lanza may have had a personality disorder and Asperger's syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Holley said he was a single parent of a high-functioning autistic son who had some behaviors that could mistakenly make people thing he could do something violent when in fact he was very gentle.
High Springs police have already taken steps to improve communication with the school by enabling dispatch to tap into the school's radio system to get real-time information when incidents occur.
Friday's shootings were the latest in a number of school massacres, including an attack at Colorado's Columbine High School when two students shot and killed 12 students and one teacher in 1999.
The Alachua County working group will be led by sheriff's Lt. David Lee, who oversees the agency's school resource officer program. It will address training, facilities improvements, security procedures, crisis communication and other issues.