When La Cañada High School 7/8 Principal Jarrett Gold first heard the news that people had been injured in a Feb. 14 shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, his heart went out to the victims.
By that evening, when he learned the incident had ultimately led to the deaths of 17, including adults and students — and heard affected students crying out for more than sympathetic platitudes — he asked what could be done at his own school.
“It really struck me — I stayed up at night thinking about it,” he recalled.
The next morning, Gold contacted Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station Dep. Eric Matejka, a community liaison who works with La Cañada’s schools, to see if a Feb. 22 staff meeting could include some active shooter training. The session was aptly timed, just hours before a campuswide lockdown drill was to take place.
Although last week’s drill was hypothetical, Gold is no stranger to the real scenario.
He was dean of students at William Howard Taft High School in Woodland Hills in September 2003, when a gang-related shooting broke out at a bus stop after school, wounding three students.
Eight years later, Gold’s wife was working as special education teacher at El Camino Real High School in when school resource officer Jeffrey Stenroos shot himself in a hoax that caused a 10-hour lockdown of immediate vicinity.
“I thought it was essential we start talking more about lockdowns and what to do in these situations,” he said. “These are the conversations we need to continue to have.”
At the staff meeting, Gold told employees there is no single blueprint for how to respond to an active shooter scenario. The goal is to stay safe and calm and look for common-sense solutions.
“When we go through the drills, the students may not listen as much as we want them to,” he said. “But during the real thing, the students will have big eyes looking at you for direction.”
The room went dark and employees watched “Surviving an Active Shooter,” a 9-minute YouTube video created by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department as an instructive tool.
The video acquainted them with the latest response methodology — Run, Hide, Fight — which advises bystanders to first try and safely flee the area if possible, barricade themselves inside a room if escape isn’t an option and, if needed, how to confront and distract a shooter.
Different scenarios were played out, depending on the proximity of a shooter. Matejka told staff members if they run, don’t hold out their cellphones in case law enforcement was nearby.
“When we’re outside, the first thing we’re going to do is eliminate the threat — it’s no holds barred,” he explained, adding that cellphones can be mistaken for firearms.
Teachers were advised, if they hide, to keep students out of a shooter’s line of sight, to lock and block doors or tie a belt or rope around a door closer to keep people out. They were further instructed that in no scenario should someone safely ensconced open the door to a student, even if they’re pleading to be let in.
Confronting shooters is a last resort, but finding a way to distract their attention momentarily can be a powerful way to gain control or seize a weapon, Matejka said.
Gold told teachers afterward to start talking with students, so they could be empowered by knowing how to respond. Seventh-grade history teacher Megan Traquair said she believed earthquake and active shooter drills should be a campus priority.
“It’s tough, because you want kids to feel safe in school,” she said. “But this is their reality.”