A 17-year-old student opened fire Tuesday morning at a high school in southern Maryland, wounding two classmates before exchanging gunfire with a school resource officer, said authorities, who credited the sheriff’s deputy for averting a worse attack.
The shooter, identified as Austin Wyatt Rollins, was killed in the exchange, but not before two other students — a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy — were wounded at Great Mills High School. The girl was in critical condition Tuesday afternoon, and the boy was in good condition, authorities said.
Rollins used a handgun in the attack and appeared to have had some relationship with the girl, St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron said. Authorities said Deputy Blaine Gaskill intervened almost immediately.
“While it’s still tragic, he may have saved other’s people’s lives,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Deputy Gaskill is believed to be the first school resource officer to kill a student gunman since the 1999 Columbine attack. His response adds to a raging debate over how to keep students safe at school.
President Trump has called for teachers and other faculty to be armed. Having more “good guys” with guns, he said, can deter or bring faster endings to school attacks.
Opponents contend there are no data to support that claim and point to last month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were slain.
That shooting involved an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which had been purchased legally. The FBI has since admitted it missed a number of warnings about the accused shooter in Florida.
Rollins, the gunman in Tuesday’s shooting, used a 9 mm Glock, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Police didn’t reveal how he obtained the weapon. Maryland has some of the stiffest firearms laws in the country, including a minimum age of 21 for possessing a handgun.
Great Mills is the 17th school shooting so far this year, according to published reports.
As policymakers search for answers, having armed officers on duty has been a frequent answer for many school systems.
Still, it is not known how many school resource officers are across the country because no one has complied the data.
A 2017 Xavier University study said 51 percent of schools had resource officers by 2014 — up from 13 percent in 1993.
But the National Association of School Resource Officers estimates that the number of officers could be as low as 14,000, and not all of them are armed. There are roughly 124,600 elementary and secondary schools across the country.
Officers’ effectiveness is also an open question.
A 2011 study found that resource officers do not have a substantial impact on the reduction of violent or property crime. But another study from that year said the presence of resource officers does result in a drop in serious violent crime.
“What we know is that the research and data doesn’t support the use of school resource officers, whether they are armed or not,” said Marc Schindler, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, a criminal justice reform advocacy group. “Research shows other approaches such as additional counselors, psychologists and trained staff lead to safer environments in schools.”
Ken Trump, of the National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based consulting firm, said it’s hard to measure resources officers’ effectiveness because they work to stop tragic events from starting.
“The vast majority of resource officers will, fortunately, never have to pull their firearm because the bulk of what they do is preventive,” he said.
Last month in Vermont, a school resource officer responded to a student’s report that a fellow student had left a voicemail outlining a mass shooting plot.
In Whittier, California, a resource officer overheard a student threaten a mass shooting. The officer notified the sheriff’s office, which found guns and ammunition at the student’s home.
But the Xavier study, a broad review of the literature, said there are no concrete conclusions on whether officers prevent mass shootings.
Anecdotal evidence is also mixed.
Deputy Gaskill was praised for intervening Tuesday, but Stoneman Douglas resource officer Scott Peterson has been publicly vilified after a security video showed him standing outside the school while the massacre was unfolding.
Mr. Trump labeled him a coward who “did a poor job.”
Mac Hardy, director of operations for the National Association of School Resource Officers, said Mr. Peterson’s actions “set them back” but that a well-trained officer should be effective in preventing an attack.
The cost of an armed resource officer is a challenge to most schools with stretched budgets.
Based on the median police officer salary of $60,000, it would cost over $7 billion to place a resource officer in every school across the country. That does not include the cost of insurance, benefits and training.
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said his city pays $1.2 billion to assign armed guards to its 1,400 schools.
The Department of Justice has offered over $745 million in grant money to train and hire resource officers.
• Jeff Mordock can be reached at email@example.com.
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