WEST NEWBURY — Barely one month after the mass shooting that left 20 children and six educators dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., two dozen parents, school officials and local law enforcement met this week to discuss safety and security for students and teachers here at home.
Trooper Kevin Coughlin and Lt. Robert Sojka of the Massachusetts State Police Critical Infrastructure Unit led the discussion hosted by Pentucket Regional School District Superintendent Jeff Mulqueen on Thursday night at the high school. Principals from the Pentucket schools and police chiefs from Groveland, Merrimac and West Newbury were also present.
Mulqueen, who previously worked for the Worcester public schools, said his years as a school administrator in an urban setting moved him to immediate action when he received the phone call last month from West Newbury police Chief Lisa Holmes alerting him to the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
With the threat of copycat crimes always a possibility following mass shooting, Mulqueen said, “My prior experience kicked in at that point.”
Within hours, Mulqueen gathered a team of local law enforcement and staff to begin addressing how to better secure the Pentucket schools. He developed a five-point plan that included increased police patrols around the school grounds. When Police Chief Eric Shears of Merrimac recommended he call in the state’s Critical Infrastructure Program team to conduct security surveys of the district’s schools, he immediately agreed.
To the frustration of some parents in the audience, Coughlin was intentionally circumspect in describing the findings of the security surveys and his recommendations for dealing with any safety issues. Coughlin explained that revealing a school’s vulnerabilities and the solutions adopted to address them gives information to potential criminals, deviants and even terrorists at home and abroad.
Coughlin did say that any issues that Pentucket had didn’t “truly shock” him and that the trends were consistent district-wide. Primary problems involved how people access school buildings, particularly after hours.