Law enforcement officers will increase their presence at Bend-La Pine Schools when students return to classes next week as a way to reassure families reeling from Sunday’s tragic shooting at an east Bend shopping center.
The 20-year-old gunman who killed Glenn Bennett and Donald Surrett at the Safeway on NE 27th Street and U.S. Highway 20 before taking his own life has been allegedly linked to a blog post threatening an attack on Mountain View High School on the first day of school. The blog writer talked about an AR-15-style rifle, which was the same type used in Sunday’s attack.
The police department’s school resource officers will be on campuses as is the norm, according to Sheila Miller, Bend Police spokesperson.
“We will work with the Bend-La Pine Schools to ensure that there is an appropriate police presence in and around schools and school activities in the coming weeks,” Miller said. “We know this is a scary time for folks, and we want the public to feel as comfortable as they can sending their children to school.”
Miller said the Bend Police Department currently has four school resource officers, each assigned to either Caldera High School, Mountain View High School, Bend High School, and Summit High School.
Those four officers also patrol other elementary schools, middle schools and specialty high schools in the area, all taking turns visiting and checking in, Miller said.
“Especially in the first weeks because of what we all have been through,” Miller said. “Making clear to people that we are here, we are around, and if you need us, we will be there.”
Miller said school resource officers are armed and fully uniformed, and are equipped with marked police vehicles just like any other officer. In addition to patrolling schools, their job will include developing relationships with both students and staff, she said.
“As time allows, our officers are being asked to be a noticeable presence in and around our schools, especially as the school year starts,” Miller said. “It’s a matter of making it clear there will be uniformed police officers driving marked police vehicles, and having them present … parked in front of a school, or walking around a football game, or visiting a classroom. When police walk around, they get noticed.”
Students on edge
Some students remain on edge about going back into the classroom.
Arthur Stolting, an 18-year-old set to start his senior year at Mountain View, said he feels a sense of fear thinking about the planned return to campus, especially knowing that an online post had targeted Mountain View.
“If he had waited, and if he would have decided to wait to commit those atrocities any longer, it would have happened at Mountain View,” Stolting told The Bulletin in a phone interview Tuesday. “I kind of have a sense of a little bit of fear for myself and my classmates. It could have been us, and it could have been much worse.”
Stolting said he’s heard more about the new school year from classmates than from teachers or school officials.
“Everyone I’ve talked to doesn’t have a safe sense of security when they think about school coming up,” Stolting said. “We don’t know what to expect of anyone in the future.”
Amanda Gibson isn’t sure if she’ll send her 14-year-old son, David, to the first day of his freshman year at Mountain View.
“Before this happened, I had some concerns already just with the world we live in, to be honest. After Sunday though, honestly I’m still torn between keeping him home or sending him to school,” Gibson said. “I don’t want to lose my son to some shooter for whatever reason.”
The shooting hit close to home for Gibson. She lives near the Safeway that was attacked on Sunday, and her son had been in the neighborhood next to it less than an hour before the shooting. What’s more, she knew Bennett, one of the victims.
Gibson said she’s been trying to process the shooting by talking about it with her family, including David, her 9-year-old daughter and her 19-year-old son.
“That’s not something that I want to tuck away,” she said. “I don’t want to hide it from them.”
Still, those personal connections to the shooting amplify the worries Gibson feels about the new school year. She said she’d like to see the district increase the police presence on campuses and offer more information about what safety measures will be in place to ease her mind.
She said the decision about whether David attends the first day will come down to two things.
“I think it’s going to be, number one, what we hear from Bend-La Pine Schools and, number two, how this kind of plays out over the week,” Gibson said.
Bend-La Pine Superintendent Steve Cook wrote in an email to district families Tuesday that the district has been preparing safety plans for the first day of school for weeks. He encouraged families to use available counseling resources, and tried to calm fears about the explicit and frightening threats made against the high school.
“With the alleged author now confirmed deceased, law enforcement does not believe that there is a current threat to Mountain View High School or any of our schools,” Cook wrote. “That said, we will be increasing resources and adult support at Mountain View High School and throughout the district in the days and weeks to come.”
Julianne Repman, the school district’s director of safety and communication, said school campuses over the coming weeks and months will see additional officers from the Bend Police Department, Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and Oregon State Police, in addition to the school resource officers typically on campuses.
The district also plans a program of “mental health recovery” for students at Mountain View. That includes additional counselors on campus at the start of the year for students who need to talk to someone, as well as longer-range efforts like monitoring grades to find students who might be struggling because they feel unsafe at school.
“How this situation has impacted their feeling of safety and belonging in their community…can have an effect on grades,” Repman said. “That’s one of the ways that you can see that it’s manifesting.”
Repman also outlined a long list of safety improvements underway in schools this year, including plans for expanded security cameras, enhanced training for staff and students and an emphasis on encouraging students to report concerning behavior.
She declined to speak specifically about the gunman’s alleged postings foreshadowing Sunday’s shooting, saying they were under investigation and referring the question to law enforcement instead, but Repman noted that the district does regularly monitor threats on social media.
The district contracts with a vendor to track “worrisome online behavior” and received extra reports in the two days following the shooting as some in the community expressed fears about a rumored second shooter and threats of additional attacks.
“They reveal that most all of the chatter was about the document that was found online,” Repman said.
“They did not reveal any secondary threats.”
But for a rattled community, Repman said recovering a sense of safety will come from frank conversations between family members and others about being prepared for an emergency of any kind.
Talking about what to do if a stranger were to enter your home or practicing at home the fire drills kids learn in school can help open the door to more conversations about how to react to other emergencies.
“There are just a lot of layers of things that we can do to normalize — not to normalize the threat of an active someone coming into a grocery store and murdering innocent people — but normalizing what our behavior is going to be in a crisis, and talking about it openly,” Repman said.
Miller, Bend Police spokeswoman, said investigators still have a lot of evidence to process.
Because the investigation is ongoing, police will not be releasing further information about the firearms used in the attack and recovered at the scene, the AR-15-style rifle and two shotguns, or about the shooter and his motives. Police previously reported that the guns were legally obtained.
“We have released all information about the shooter that we intend to,” Miller said.
“We are not prepared to release any further information about the suspect, his motives or any writings he may have posted. That information remains under active criminal investigation.”