On Sunday Jan. 15, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker let Malik Faisal Akram into his synagogue in Colleyville, gave him shelter from the frigid weather and offered him a cup of tea. But Akram had a far more malicious intent and took the four people present in the synagogue hostage. However, because of the years of security and survival training Cytron-Walker had received, he was able to escape through a side door after 11 grueling hours and save the lives of all four hostages. This event caused the Eagle Edition to look into the school’s security and ask if we would be prepared for an intruder situation.
SECURITY AT 4100 MERRELL ROAD
After driving through the front gates, security can identify the driver, their criminal history, and if they are a member of the school’s community. The program ESD security uses, Raptor, is able to identify visitors through license plate numbers and access to Dallas Police Department’s records. If they aren’t a part of the community, the visitor is asked to wrap a colored band around their wrist. Once on campus, the first person a visitor interacts with is Sandra Woolever, the school’s receptionist and administrative assistant.
“All we do to let people in is just run through our system” Woolever said. “Somebody could always come in and do harm, and didn’t have any kind of record, but I’m not scared.”
If Woolever is not at her desk, the visitor checks in with middle and upper school attendance and ESD coordinator Ashley Little. From one glance Little can determine if the person belongs on campus.
“From years of working [here] I am able to recognize the faces in the community,” Little said. “If I don’t recognize them, I know if they have been cleared to be on campus if they have their wrist bands.”
Little has been at ESD for four years. In this time, the security system has stayed consistent. There is communication between the different security guards, and at least one guard always sits and watches the security cameras while students are on campus. The ESD security is connected with the Dallas Police Department. Whenever there is a car chase, an escape from prison or a shooting, ESD is aware. This allows the school’s security to be stricter on entry when something is happening in the Dallas area.
“It’s been a pretty tight ship, [and] we’re very thorough,” Little said. “[It’s good] that we practice drills because you never know what could happen.”
ESD has had a few false alarms and scares throughout the years. In 2016 there was a false alarm lockdown. A few fifth-grade students thought they saw a suspicious man enter campus and reported him to an adult.
“I was in my advisory room, and through a window, I saw a guy going into the Swann Building,” sophomore Barrow Solomon said. “He scared me because he had a ski mask on.”
Solomon reported what he saw to his teacher, and a school-wide lockdown was ordered. The Dallas Police searched the school. Tension was high as teachers and students from middle and upper school hid in their classrooms.
“I was very scared,” sophomore Ava Loftus said. “And in the [Black Box] theater, there were so many entrances in the room, so no one knew where to hide.”
Three years later, in the fall of 2019, a woman entered campus to retrieve something from a friend, an employee at ESD. However, she did not go to her friend but entered the chapel. The woman owned and operated a home remodeling business, so she had a small pocketknife on her tool belt, but it was never touched. The visitor policies have changed, and people must pick up their visitors at the front and stay with them.
“It was terrifying,” Lily Baughman ’20 said. “She sat a few rows back from me and had a noticeable stench.”
On Friday, Jan. 28, two people entered the campus and people thought they looked suspicious and contacted security. It ended up being an alumn and his girlfriend. Alumni are allowed on campus, there was just some confusion between the officer who let them in and the officers who took calls about the suspicious people.
“I think student involvement is huge, so just like that situation, if you don’t know who they are, call us and let us know that you see them,” Head of Security Jody Trumble said. “It is really easy for people to rationalize situations: ‘They’re probably fine, right?’ I was thankful we got three calls on the [couple] that day. I would much rather take 50 calls and have it be nothing than for people to not call in [the one day] it was needed.”
Loftus saw them walking outside of the chapel.
“[The couple] looked pretty harmless,” Loftus said. “I honestly, I didn’t know that they weren’t supposed to be on campus until afterward.”
Trumble has been the head of security since March of 2016. Her security background is extensive. She worked in the Air Force, the Burleson Police Department for 17 years and was trained by the FBI to be a hostage negotiator.
“[My past jobs] translate directly by having the knowledge of laws and basic security concepts,” Trumble said. “As well as knowing how to understand people, it’s all about people.”
Trumble has changed many protocols since her arrival. She created a new phone system, so there is now a main security phone number that anyone can call. The number has a dispatcher that can send security personnel anywhere that is needed on campus. They also monitor the security camera system.
“We’ve just gone to more accountability,” Trumble said. “The office puts everything together.”
To train communities and prepare them to be ready in case of emergency, an intrusion or breach of security. Texas mandates that every school should practice at least one fire drill per month and the school abides by that protocol.
“I think training is always the answer; drills give you a basic understanding of what to do in a situation,” Trumble said. “[Do] I think the drills give you basic skills? Yes, and that’s why we do them. Not only that, but anything that people practice when they have to do it in a crisis, they tend to be calmer about it. The goal of any drill is to perform the physical act, so it becomes second nature.”
ESD does lockdown drills three times per year. The drill consists of an alarm going off, and students and teachers are instructed to close the classroom’s blinds, turn off the lights, lock the door and hide in the corner of the room where no one would be able to see them.
“Drills are not that accurate to what a real shooter situation would be like,” sophomore Gwyn Moore said. “I think that the purpose of them is to teach younger kids to stay calm in crisis situations.”
CRASE, which stands for civilian response to active shooter events, is a program that teaches people what to do in an active shooter situation, teaches how to get out of the line of sight and get behind a locked door. Although ESD does not offer or teach this program, Trumble, who is a certified CRASE instructor, is willing to teach this course to any group that might be interested.
“If there was a shooter or an active shooter event, those skills [would] translate,” Trumble said. “So if you’re at the mall, a restaurant, movie theater or anywhere those types of events take place you would know what to do. Knowledge is the best possible protection for something I hope you never have to use.”
Sports games, theater performances and art shows all require non-students to be on campus after hours. During these events, students from other schools, parents and family members enter campus. Large groups of people on campus, who are not students, can leave the school vulnerable to someone dangerous blending in the crowd.
“Without directly saying how we do it, there’s the idea that if you have something that’s a security concern, then you always want to try to have a countermeasure for that,’’ Trumble said. “So if you’re going to have this big group of unknown people, then you want to have more eyes and ears out there to be alert to what’s happening. [During big events we] increase staff and put cameras in places that are difficult to see.”
School shootings and attacks are not always just a person walking in during the day and going into classrooms. A lot of shootings on campuses are caused by students becoming aggressive after a game, and a gun is used in the parking lot.
“For the most part, we’re playing teams of schools that are similar to ours, so a lot of times our communities overlap,” Trumble said. “We have families who may have a sibling at Hockaday or families who know people from both schools. Their families go to church with or they’re in the same social circles. That’s nice for us, from a security perspective, because then someone who doesn’t belong is more apt to be pointed out by both sides.”
PHYCOLOGY BEHIND LOCKDOWNS
During lockdown drills kids laugh and talk while huddling under tables or desks, but if an actual lockdown alarm would go off, how would people react?
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted of U.S. teenagers from the ages of 13 to 17, 57 percent of all teens are worried about the possibility of a shooting occuring at their school. Of a 145 person poll, 22 percent of students are worried about school shootings and 55 percent of students don’t.
“I think what makes shootings so scary is that you never really know where or when one is going to happen next,” junior Elizabeth Sawers said. “Dallas is a big city, and there could easily be one in our community. I think it’s hard not to be worried. I think knowing that there is constant security at ESD helps ease nerves a little, but it is definitely always in the back of my mind.”
While the thought of shootings or scary events are present in people’s lives, schools have safety precautions to prevent events from occurring. In Texas, it is required for schools to perform lockdown drills at least two times a year: once a semester. These drills help emulate what students and teachers should do if there is a threat present in school. Thirty-nine percent of students from the same school poll believe that teachers should carry guns in schools because it could be effective in preventing school shootings.
However, students also believe that, outside of school, the state should make changes in gun policy. In the Pew Research Center survey, 86 percent of teens believed that preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns and improving mental health screening and treatment would be effective in preventing shootings, and 66 percent responded that assault-style weapons like rifles, shotguns and pistols should be banned. Seventy-nine percent of students answered that having metal detectors in schools would be effective.
“There’s huge debates on guns in schools and discussions about [whether] teachers [and] administrators should be armed,” Forensic Psychologist Dr. Antoinette McGarrahan said. “This happens on college campuses [too]. I think there are arguments on both sides. I tend to take the side that maybe, in certain situations, if a bunch of people have guns, when law enforcement arrives, they have no idea who the bad guy is and who the good guy is.”
The lockdown drills also may negatively affect kids mentally. In an interview for an article in The Atlantic, associate professor Colleen Derkatch at Ryerson University said that “the more prepared we are, the more heightened our sense of risk is, and one potential effect we haven’t considered is how these kinds of preparedness activities affect kids psychologically, and could increase a sense of feeling at risk.”
If young children practice these sorts of drills, they are possibly exposed to the thought that someone may be trying to kill them at any given time. It also may increase anxiety and depression for people in the community. A report by NBC News, found that active shooter drills correlated with a 42 percent increase in anxiety and stress and a 39 percent increase in depression.
“[Someone was] recently telling me that somebody was talking about just remembering sort of every time they had to go through the lockdown drills kind of over and over,” McGarrahan said. “It was sort of like those drills were traumatizing in and of themselves. Just the thought about that, or what you have to do and planning for that.”
Though there are many negative side effects of lockdown drills on kids and teachers, schools believe that constant practice will help build their personal confidence if an actual crisis occurred.
“Doing a drill and then doing it over and over again is to help when or if something happens [so] you already know what to do,” upper school Emotional Wellness Counselor Merredith Stuelpe said. “It’s sort of like a second sense or muscle memory. [You] don’t have to think about it that much, [you] just know where [you’re] supposed to be and do it automatically. If something happens and you’re not prepared, you can freeze.”
During a shooting in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, a former student killed 17 people and wounded 17 others. The lack of training for responding to the active shooter left everyone in the building vulnerable. While finding ways to still be prepared, schools can take steps that would help minimize the anxiety and trauma of lockdown drills.
“[Lockdown drills] for students are just too much to mentally deal with time and time again,” McGarrahan said. “So I think that from a mental health perspective, making sure that administrators and counselors are available for students to talk to if they don’t want to talk in advisory in front of other people, has different avenues for students to be able to ask questions to seek help and to better understand what’s happening.”
As shootings have become more relevant today, there’s another side where people have become desensitized to these occurrences as a defense to prevent other emotions from spurring.
“I think it’s because we’re seeing it more and more now, and the word that we use in psychology is habituate, which is like desensitization,” McGarrahan said. “We can’t be aroused in our fight or flight mode all the time. And what happens is, you become a little bit numb to it as sort of a defensive way against getting upset, angry, frustrated, afraid [or other emotions]. Our body, in your mind, protects against that by numbing you, somewhat, the more and more that they happen.”
The frequency of these actions can also call for people to block them out. Seeing and listening to shootings or attacks on the news can feel repetitive. The recurrence tends to desensitize people, even the most empathic ones. School lockdowns could even cause people and students to be desensitized to actual shootings
“Because we see them so much, everyone has become conditioned into accepting them as a tragic but normal thing,” Sawers said. “However, when you try and take your thoughts outside of the bubble we are in, you realize how crazy it is that we have accepted that as a norm. Also, the desensitization can be seen by how the news describes these shootings now. I’ll get a CNN notification on my phone when a shooting happens, but they are not talked about anymore as much as they should be. It’s like now, we hear about one, we think ‘Oh, that’s sad,’ and then move on until the cycle repeats.”
Another reason why people ignore the possibility of shootings is because at that time, they are safe. In a 2018 interview on The Cut with director of the Traumatology Institute Charles Figley, who has worked directly in school shooting interventions, said that humans constantly try to maintain safety and happiness within their lives. If a shooting occurs at a church or a public area not near them, they believe that they are safe and their children are safe, so they ignore the possibility of a shooting occurring.
The idea of lockdown drills pulls people into various directions. Some believe that they are good, others believe that the drills negatively affect people and some are even unbothered. However to ensure the safety of everyone, even if a shooting is a rare occurrence, lockdowns are vital to staying safe.
“I think that ESD provides a sense of security for a lot of things, but as we have seen in the news for the past 10 or so years, there really is nothing the school can do to 100 percent prevent something like a school shooting from happening,” Sawers said. “Because it is ultimately out of our control and something we are seeing more and more in this day and age, it is incredibly important that we are prepared and able to effectively react if need be in order to keep ourselves safe. I also think that even if we never end up needing to use these tactics for a real lockdown, it is good that all students learn the basic imperatives to follow instructions, stay quiet and stay calm.”
A SURVIVOR’S STORY
Lockdowns can a gunman down, but only if executed well. According to FBI data, since 2000, an average of about five students or staff have died every year due to school shootings. In 2021 alone, there were 34 school shootings, according to data by The Washington Post. 2021 topped the record for the most school shootings in U.S. history. According to a Feb. 7 poll of 145 students and faculty, 46 percent do not feel as though lockdown drills fully prepare them for the possibility of a shooting at ESD. Despite frequent drills conducted by schools, the reality is that students and faculty need more training about what to do in vulnerable situations.
On the morning of May 18, 2018, students and teachers at Santa Fe Highschool in Santa Fe, Texas were suddenly scrambling for safety as they heard shots fired just after class had begun. Seventeen-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a student at the school, entered the school and pulled a fire alarm. As students rushed out of their classrooms, he began to fire a weapon.
Pagourtzis killed 10 people — eight students and two teachers — and wounded 13 others. This shooting became the fourth-deadliest school shooting in the United States, sitting directly behind the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, and the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February 2018.
Angela Bickerstaff, Santa Fe High School freshman at the time, was in the middle of writing an in-class essay for her English class when she was abruptly interrupted by the sound of the fire alarm going off.
“I remember looking up to my teacher and asking her if we could just stay in class and keep writing our essay,” Bicketstaff said. “We all thought it was just a drill when we heard the fire alarm pulled. All I was thinking about was just finishing my essay. My teacher insisted we go outside because she was unaware that there was supposed to be a drill.”
Bickerstaff and her classmates made their way outside of the building when suddenly she began to realize something was not right. Unaware of what to do, students began to run.
“People just started telling us to run as fast as we could,” Bickerstaff said. “We all just started running across the highway away from the school. I thought something was wrong with the school, like a building was going to blow up or there was a gas leak. I immediately called my dad who works in the fire department,, but he did not tell me what was going on. I just remember him telling me that he was coming to school and that everything was going to be okay.”
As Bickerstaff and her classmates found themselves hiding behind an automotive shop not too far from campus, parents began to frantically call their children as news of the shooting reached the community of Santa Fe.
“My mom called me not too long after we ran off campus,” Bickerstaff said. “She was like ‘where are you right now, I am coming to get you’ and I told her I had no idea what was going on and that I was hiding off campus. That is when she told me there was a shooting at my school. That was the first time I heard about it.”
Prior to the shooting at Santa Fe High School, the school had instituted a rule that they would have lockdown drills once every nine weeks. In February of 2018, three months prior to the shooting, the school received a call from someone who thought they had heard loud noises coming from the school. From this, the school went into full lockdown mode instantly only to find out it was only a scare and not a shooting.
“We were definitely told what to do in the case of a lockdown,” Bickerstaff said. “Did we follow it when the time came? No. I remember people making a bunch of jokes during lockdown drills. The only time we ever took a lockdown seriously was in February when we thought there was a shooting.”
After the shooting occurred, the Santa Fe community began rebuilding and mourning the loss of the 10 people they had tragically lost in May. Santa Fe High School began taking action toward making sure another devastating situation like the one they had faced would never happen again. Teachers received more training over the summer after the shooting, metal detectors at the entrances of the school were introduced, and last year, the school decided to begin having teachers keep guns in their classrooms.
“I think these changes might have made people who weren’t there for the shooting feel safer, but for people like myself and my grade who saw the shooting happen, these changes didn’t necessarily make me feel better, ‘’ Bickerstaff said. “A lot of us did not like the idea of having guns on campus. I think people saw it as ironic, how there was a shooting on campus and now teachers were walking around campus with guns.”
As Bickerstaff reflects on the shooting almost four years later, she recounts the feeling of being frantic and most of all, just wanting to escape from the unknown terror she felt that morning.
“I was just trying to get out of the school,” Bickerstaff said. “It was just like a gut feeling right then, you know something is wrong and your mind is just telling you to get out as fast as you can.”