Active Shooter Procedures Changed After Westside

Westside Middle School Memorial Garden

Westside from Katie Woodall

by Katie Woodall
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO – Twenty years have passed since the shooting that changed the lives of so many in Northeast Arkansas.

On March 24, 1988, two middle school students shot and killed four classmates and one teacher. It still haunts the people of Jonesboro. Westside Superintendent Scott Gaunt said the threat of violence serves as a worry for superintendents everywhere.

“Any superintendent will tell you that’s a nightmare that all of us have. Bad people have bad intentions; they’re going to do bad things,” Gaunt said. You know, we can only hope that we can put protocols in place that can stop it.”

One thing that can be taken from tragedies like Westside’s involves how law enforcement handles active-shooter situations. Sgt. Lyle Waterworth, Jonesboro Police Department’s community outreach and recruiting coordinator, said 20 years ago police officials waited for special forces, a policy that changed after the Columbine school shooting. The Columbine shooting happened a year after the Westside shooting, and also involved two minors shooting and killing their classmates and one teacher.

In the last 20 years, officials placed active-threat procedures in place in schools all over the nation. Many schools put in place precautions like student resource officers and civilian response courses.

“It’s important for people to know that they can defend themselves,” Waterworth said.

Whether it’s a course like the one taught to incoming freshman at Arkansas State University or the training Jonesboro Police go through with local schools, current training procedures include the same basic concepts.

“Different programs use different names, but they all kind of break down to this: run, hide or fight,” said Bill Smith, A-State’s associate vice chancellor for marketing and communications.

Something Smith said improved over last 20 years include the willingness to create training programs and talk openly about what people need to do in active-shooter situations.

“I think one of the things that over time we’ve seen as a change in the response to active threats is more of a response toward the aggression,” Smith said.

The anniversary of the Westside shooting arrives with painful memories for Jonesboro residents, but it also brings with it valuable lessons and advances in procedures to prevent active threats in the future.

Featured photo by Christopher Lee