The message Merrimack Police Chief Mark Doyle had for residents on Friday afternoon, in the wake of one of the country's deadliest school shootings is that he believes Merrimack Police and schools are doing their due diligence to plan for the unexpected.
“The short and simple answer is, we're about as well prepared as we can be for something like this,” Doyle said.
Doyle's comments were in response to reports of a young gunman who entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and opened fire, killing 26 people in the building including 20 children somewhere between the ages of 5 and 10 years old, and six adults before apparently turning the gun on himself.
Sandy Hook is a suburban Connecticut town of about 27,000 people, not so unlike Merrimack. The shooter, who has been identified as 20-year-old Adam Lanza, is also said to have killed his mother, a teacher at the school, at her home. This story is constantly unfolding and evolving. You can stay with Patch for continued updates at our sister Newtown Patch site.
Doyle said the tragedy in Connecticut today is unthinkable, and certainly the school had plans in place in the event of an emergency such as this, but no plan is fail proof when someone is determined and has planned an attack of this or any of the other instances of this nature.
“Nothing is hard and fast here,” Doyle said. “It's very difficult to, short of barbed wired fences around and walling the buildings in concrete, to keep something like this from happening. And no one wants to see that.”
The fact is, it's hard and, really, impossible to prevent someone determined to carry out an act such a this from doing so, Doyle said.
But, that doesn't mean there aren't plans and protocol in place.
Doyle said the police department and the local schools have worked very closely to put plans into place for any number of emergencies, such as an active shooter, a chemical hazard, a fire, etc.
“We've worked closely with the school district to create plans, to drill the plan, and to make sure that our response is appropriate whatever the circumstance is,” Doyle said.
The plans are ever-evolving, Doyle said, and surely will continue to evolve as details emerge regarding this particular experience.
“It was a horrific situation that occurred several years ago at Columbine, and it's a horrific situation that occurred today,” Doyle said, adding that tragedies such as this are learning experiences and the information that comes out in the days, weeks, months and years after them help schools and police departments evaluate and reassess protocol.
“One of the responsibilities of school districts and law enforcement agencies is to constantly re-evaluate planning, re-plan, re-drill and continually look at that as an ongoing project,”Doyle said. “This is not something we put together and put up on a shelf and collect dust.”
Doyle said the Merrimack Police Department conducts drills in the schools and they visit schools after hours “so our officers have a working framework of how the school is laid out and know where they need to go in the event of an emergency.”
The district also has school resource officers in the middle and high schools who have relationships within their schools and the elementary schools and members of the police departments are in Merrimack's elementary schools on a regular basis for various programs. Doyle said these relationships are important not only to give students a sense of trust in the police, but also in building relationships with staff and administration. He said he believes the staff and administration need to feel a sense of comfort with these officers that they could call them or the police department if they had a need to.
He said he's not sure if Sandy Hook had officers in any of their schools, or if it would have even made a difference in something like what happened on Friday.
“This is the kind of thing that will be analyzed for years to come – the what ifs and the should ofs and could ofs,” Doyle said. “We want to make sure we've done all we can and an evaluation of this is critical … Lessons that are learned will be applied across law enforcement agencies all across the country."
Doyle said starting Monday the department will discuss with the school district what things his department can do to help be it ramping up visibility in and around the schools or re-evaluating current protocols.
In the meantime, he said he, and everyone in the department will be thinking of those affected by this tragedy.
“Our thoughts and our prayers, and I know I echo the sentinment of the whole community, are with the folks in Sandy Hook, Conn., and frankly if there is anything we can do up here we will, and we know they would do it down there.”
A call to the Merrimack School District on Friday was unreturned, but we will bring you updated information about precautions the schools take on a daily basis to prevent this kind of tragedy, when we can get more information.