TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) - Nearly four months after the shooting in nearby Noblesville, the city's police chief is taking the time to share how the police department responded to this tragedy.
It happened on May 25th, 2018. At 9:06 that morning, a 911 call came in that there was an active shooter at Noblesville West Middle School.
The teacher of the classroom had tackled the shooter, pinning him to the ground and taking three shots. One students was shot and left in critical condition.
Within minutes, police responded to the school. Within hours, an estimated 250 police officers from surrounding areas, state police, and federal officers arrived on scene.
Both the teacher and the student lived and are expected to recover fully.
Noblesville Police Chief Kevin Jowitt spoke with educators and police officials Thursday morning at the Tippecanoe County School Safety meeting.
"I think any time an incident occurs public safety people and others involved want to know what happened," he said. “Particularly to be able to talk about the pre-planning that worked, pre-planning that didn't work, things of that nature. Lessons learned are always a whole lot more valuable than things that are just theoretical.”
He emphasized the importance of having over-arching training between different departments. He said having a School Resource Officer (SRO) on the middle school property was crucial to getting the situation under control, and emphasized the importance of having SRO’s to Tippecanoe County leaders in attendance.
He said Noblesville will increase it’s number of SRO’s from four to 12 by the end of the year. He said funding this increase in officers will be split between the department and the school district.
Chief Jowitt also pointed out the many similarities between Tippecanoe and Hamilton counties.
Both have multiple cities, multiple police forces, and multiple school districts within its borders. He says making sure all involved entities are able to work together is crucial.
"Relationships that are built before something happens is important because that kind of helps determine how things work when something does happen," he said.
He said Noblesville Police Department had two important things on their side during the entirety of the incident: luck and preparedness.
"Taking training seriously, doing the right kinds of training, pre-planning as much as you can, that definitely paid off in the situation we dealt with," he said.
Members of the County School Safety Meeting were listening.
"We would like to think that we are as prepared as possible but there is always areas that need further work in so being able to speak to someone who has had that has had that kind of experience is valuable," said Steven Tobias, Tippecanoe School Corporation Director of Buildings, Grounds and Safety.
Chief Jowitt also talked about the decision to have a single source of communication with the public and the press to ensure that all information shared was correct.
To deal with constant phone calls from parents regarding their child’s safety, they sent out a “if you have not been notified, then your child is safe” message once the families of the two injured were notified.
After the fact, he said they made it a priority to think about mental health of all those involved, from students and parents, to teachers and first responders. He said the generosity of the community showed, as about 20 local psychologists and social workers who specialize in dealing with trauma volunteered their services for free.
“Interestingly enough, it was mainly adults who utilized the mental health resources,” he said to the crowd. “Kids are very resilient.”
Now as parents are talking and demanding action to be taken to further prevent this from happening, he talked about the pros and cons of having physical security measures, such as metal detectors.
He said that kids are also smart in thinking of ways to work around such options. And that having a large group of kids waiting outside the school to be scanned creates even more of an attackable target.
He referenced the 9/11 terror attacks and what the response was in that case. He said, nationally, we took the stance of trying to identify behaviors that indicate a terrorist threat in order to stop it preemptively.
This is what he is encouraging all communities also do. Have training provided to teachers, administrators, and officers that educates them on what behavioral signs to look for and how to deal with them before tragic action is taken.
Why not arm teachers? he has heard asked. In his experience, he said police officers are the ones that are trained to deal with and execute drastic measures in order to neutralize a life threatening situation. He said teachers and educators should only have to worry about doing their job, which is educating children.
Of all the things Chief Jowitt talked about today, he had one very important message to share.
"We're in the Heartland. It's really easy to think, no that happens in other places,” he said. “What happened in Noblesville is very demonstrative of the fact that it can happen here."
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