Archive for Thursday, April 19, 2007

Baker touched by Virginia tragedy

April 19, 2007

In the wake of the country's largest massacre at Virginia Tech University Monday, school security is again at the forefront of many minds and that includes Baker University and the Baldwin School District.

Monday's mass murder/suicide in Virginia, where 33 people were killed, including the gunman at his own hand, has school officials and others examining security.

"All schools and universities will be reviewing their plans and paying attention to how this case plays out," said Steve Rottinghaus, Baker spokesman.

Monday's shootings involved a Virginia Tech student and Rottinghaus said there's no way to plan for that and prevent it.

"Oh, no," he said. "Yeah, there isn't anyway to plan for that. And when you think about it being a student you see everyday. How are you going to defend against that?

"Baker has a crisis communication plan and an emergency response plan and those are updated all the time and will be talked about again," said Rottinghaus.

It's a similar situation in the Baldwin School District.

"We continue to look at our security," said Supt. Paul Dorathy. "We had a guy in just last week to look at a couple of our buildings. Anytime there's an incident like this, we re-evaluate how we would deal with it.

"It's unfortunate that these things happen," Dorathy said. "I think we should always be looking at ways to prevent that and be proactive. Hindsight is real easy and the blame-game will be going on. You have a plan in place and follow that. The true blame is on the gunman."

Still, precautions are taken. On the Baker campus, all resident halls are locked and only people with key cards can enter. The same holds true for sororities and for some fraternities.

"You have to have a card to get in there," said Rottinghaus. "We have programs on that -- just don't let anyone in. Make sure you know who is coming into your residence hall."

There are also five full-time security people on the payroll -- who answer to Gary Walbridge, facilities director and mayor of Baldwin -- and the campus is patrolled 24 hours a day, seven days a week, he said.

"There's always one full time staffer available," said Rottinghaus. "They are always on patrol making the rounds making sure everything is secure. They keep in close contact with residence hall staff."

That's prevention. But, Baker was also at the ready for the aftermath of the deadly shooting that gripped the nation's attention this week. A prayer vigil was held Tuesday afternoon in the Osborne Chapel.

"Monday the counseling center was open right away and they were still open Tuesday," he said. "Between that and the prayer vigil, that gives the students a place to express themselves."

It was a similar situation on Sept. 11, 2001, after the terrorist attacks across the country. Rottinghaus wasn't here then, but has heard stories about how students flocked to the chapel.

"I know a lot of people turn to the chapel in times of crisis seeking comfort," he said.

One Baker student who was at Tuesday's vigil was Caitlin Stevenson, a freshman from Liberty, Mo., who has a friend at Virginia Tech whose whereabouts are unknown as of Wednesday. However, he wasn't one of the 33 killed Monday.

"It was very nice of Baker to have this," said Stevenson. "I have a friend at Virginia Tech and I am not sure where he is at. I haven't heard anything from him at all. I have a group of friends that are trying to find out about him."

Stevenson found out about the shooting by a text message. Her reaction was immediate.

"Complete horror," she said. "I instantly got on myspace and tried to figure out if he was OK, but I haven't heard anything from him."

Another student, junior Abby Burnett from La Cygne, didn't have the same personal contact, but still felt the shooting's wrath.

"The tragedy touches us all as college students," said Burnett. "It's nice of the university to allow us time to give our thoughts and prayers with those that have lost their lives and their families."

Her initial reaction was also of horror. Then the questions came.

"I was speechless," she said. "I can't believe this happened. Then I asked all of the questions, like why and will there be a chain reaction? I hope Baker has a plan of action if this ever happened here."

That plan is in place. And, the genuine feeling of concern runs throughout Baker. President Pat Long, who was at Tuesday's vigil, summed it up.

"The tragic events of Tuesday on the Virginia Tech campus point to the fragility of life," said Long. "Our hearts and prayers go out to the entire Virginia Tech community and especially to the families of the students and faculty who were killed or injured in Monday's shootings."

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