Oct 19, 2023
One year on, Wood River High School students honor Uvalde shooting victims
Blaine County School Resource Officer Morgan Ballis gives Wood River High School
Blaine County School Resource Officer Morgan Ballis gives Wood River High School students data on targeted school violence and prevention at a demonstration Wednesday, May 24 honoring victims from the 2022 Uvalde mass shooting.
Marking the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, more than 400 students at Wood River High School on Wednesday participated in a demonstration honoring the 21 lives lost and drawing attention to gun violence in schools.
"It's not political, and it's not a protest," said 11th grade student Maeve Coffelt, co-president of Blaine County Amnesty International and organizer of the event. "Rather it's a chance to honor the victims and spread awareness. It's about just having empathy for something that happened."
Many of the students wore maroon, Robb's school color.
For 12th grader Jasmine Santacruz, the Amnesty group's co-president, said she felt if she had an opportunity to use her voice, she had to.
"We deserve to go to school and not be scared. That's a right we should have. I should wake up every morning and not worry about whether my younger brothers will make it home."
The "walk-in," held during class but optional for students, focused on some key data: According to the FBI, since 2000 there have been 46 active shooter events at pre K-12 schools, resulting in 125 students and staff killed and more than 150 wounded.
Photos of victims from Uvalde and other shootings were posted on the courtyard walls, an effort to humanize those statistics, Coffelt said.
Studies indicate more than 80% of firearms used in school active shooter events are taken from their home, the home of another family member, or the home of a friend, Coffelt said.
Hung along the courtyard were 125 locks, representing all the school shootings since 2002, and another 21 locks, one for each of the Uvalde victims.
Santacruz echoed the goal of the demonstration being apolitical.
"It's not about the Second Amendment," she said. "It's all about accountability and keeping guns safe."
The high school's assistant librarian Sheena Perron is from Uvalde and spoke at the demonstration.
"What if we are part of the solution?" she called out through a bullhorn. "What if we need to make a change? What if kindness is what this world needs?"
Perron said when Coffelt and Santacruz approached her to speak because of her connection to Uvalde, her first reaction was that she’d be "too much of an emotional wreck to speak."
But then she saw a chance to make an impact and wanted to not focus on the politics but on something she felt each individual can do to make an impact.
"Let us choose to be the compassionate voice that drowns out the echoes of violence, hatred and despair."
WRHS Assistant Librarian
"In a world where conflict and division dominate headlines, acts of kindness can become a beacon of hope and a testament to our shared humanity," Perron said. "Kindness can bridge gaps and foster harmony. Small acts of kindness, such as a warm smile, a comforting embrace, or a thoughtful word, can make an immeasurable difference in someone's life. Let us choose to be the compassionate voice that drowns out the echoes of violence, hatred and despair."
Standing in the packed courtyard, students Monica Sosa and Margarite Gil said they feel safe in the Wood River Valley and at school, but that they also do think about the possibility of a school shooter, and know it can happen anywhere.
Gil also noted the impacts to educators—not just students—and their same need to feel safe and supported.
"Teachers are a big part of it," she said.
More than 400 Wood River High School students joined together on Wednesday to honor the victims of the Uvalde school shooting, marking the one-year anniversary.
In order to provide accurate data and relevant information, Coffelt and Santacruz coordinated with School Resource Officer Morgan Ballis.
For Ballis, it is personal.
"We deserve to go to school and not be scared. That's a right we should have."
In 2011 in Tucson, Arizona, Ballis’ mother was sitting near U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords when Giffords and 18 others were shot during a constituent meeting outside of a grocery store. Six people were killed. Ballis didn't know him well, but had attended school with the shooter.
When the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 kids, Ballis’ wife was a first grade teacher and his son was in kindergarten.
"That shook me to my core," said the former Marine. "That's when I decided to dedicate my life to understanding the phenomenon of targeted school violence."
For the next decade, Ballis built his career working with schools across the country, working as a trainer, consultant and speaker while also pursuing his Ph.D. "studying nothing but school violence."
While previously he hadn't envisioned a career in law enforcement, Ballis took a job with the Hailey Police Department about a year ago and as an SRO with the Blaine County School District as "an opportunity to work from the inside out."
As a father of an elementary and a middle school student, and spouse of an educator, Ballis said he worries a lot, but that also remains the motivating force behind his work. He wants to keep his—and everyone's family—safe, "but do it in a way that is evidence-based and trauma informed."
"There is always that threat. I’ve never felt 100% safe. I’ve always been aware it's something that could happen."
Through that approach, he explained, law enforcement, schools and their students can receive training that prepares them for incidents of violence, while not causing additional emotional and psychological harm.
Ballis acknowledged the extreme polarization around guns. "What isn't polarizing is safe firearm storage and accountability," he said. "This is an opportunity for intervention . . . 80% of those events could have been avoided without access."
Looking at the particularly painful example of Uvalde, better training for law enforcement, Ballis said, can communicate data-driven information such as the shooters statistically being less likely to be trained with firearms, thus giving "opportunities for law enforcement to win that fight."
When it comes to the mass shootings with which Americans have become all too accustomed, Ballis noted that shootings in the K-12 setting are "such a unique phenomenon," and have key differences from other mass shootings.
Hailey resident Jenny Peters joined the demonstration to show her support for the students. A mother to two young children, she said she worries about her kids every day she drops them at school.
"I think we’ve lost our perspective on what is normal," she said. "And what we need to do to protect our children."
Peters wanted to let the high school students know that "this is not their responsibility.
"It is the responsibly of adults to do something, and to reflect on what we prioritize," she said.
In terms of the work and resources the Blaine County School District has employed in assessing and responding to risk, Ballis said, "I’m floored by what Blaine County has done just this year." He describes the approach as very comprehensive, with a huge emphasis on prevention.
While she generally feels very safe in her community, Coffelt also acknowledged living in a state with more lenient gun laws.
"There is always that threat. I’ve never felt 100% safe. I’ve always been aware it's something that could happen," she said.
And Santacruz, who has watched the news coverage of many mass shootings in her 17 years, remains idealistic, but she is also realistic.
"Every shooting can't be avoided, but they can be lessened," she said. "There's so little we can do. But the little we can do can make a big difference." ￼
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