Published Online:

Winnetka School's Staff Is Praised For Courage Amid Shooting Spree

Article Tools
  • PrintPrinter-Friendly
  • EmailEmail Article
  • ReprintReprints
  • CommentsComments

The superintendent of the Winnetka, Ill., public schools last week said the courage and level-headedness of staff members at the Hubbard Woods Elementary School on May 20 averted an even greater tragedy at the school and helped its children cope with the senseless shootings that left one child dead and four others seriously wounded that day.

"When we had an emergency, the instinct of everyone involved was the interest of the child,'' said Superintendent of Schools Donald Monroe.

The shootings, the work of a 30-year-old woman with a history of mental instability, shattered the tranquility of tree-lined Winnetka, a Chicago suburb that is one of the nation's most affluent and the kind of place where parents take an intense interest in the education of their children. "This wasn't even a nightmare,'' Mr. Monroe said. "It was something I could never have imagined happening.''

Bizarre Actions

The woman, Laurie Dann, arrived at Hubbard Woods school about 10:45 A.M., according to news reports, following a bizarre series of actions, including an attempt to burn the Winnetka home of a family for whom she had babysat. Ms. Dann may have gone to the school in search of a child from the same family. That child was on a field trip with about 100 other Hubbard Woods students, police said.

Ms. Dann reportedly entered the school unquestioned, then went to the 2nd-grade classroom where a substitute teacher, Amy Moses, was giving a bicycle-safety lesson.

Ms. Moses later told reporters that she thought Ms. Dann was perhaps a college student who had come to observe the class. The school, according to Mr. Monroe, has an open atmosphere in which it is not unusual for students or parents to enter freely to watch a class or check their children's progress.

Ms. Dann reportedly grabbed a copy of the bike test, then went to a boys' restroom, where she shot at and wounded her first victim, a 6-year-old boy.

She returned to the classroom and asked Ms. Moses to put all the children in one corner. Ms. Moses refused to follow the instructions and lunged for Ms. Dann's wrist.

Ms. Dann, however, grabbed a second gun and starting shooting students at point-blank range. She struck five students in the classroom, including a boy who later died, before fleeing the school.

Authorities said more children would probably have been hurt if the substitute teacher had followed Ms. Dann's order to move them into one corner.

Aftermath of Crisis

While the drama of the deranged assailant continued to unfold for several hours at a nearby home before she took her own life, teachers and officials at Hubbard Woods were left to cope with the aftermath of a major crisis.

Paramedics were called moments after the shots were fired, even before Principal Richard Streedain or others knew for certain what had happened.

"They called emergency personnel first,'' said Mr. Monroe. "Quick action and decisive action are important.''

The first ambulance arrived within five minutes, and a multicity mutual-aid system was alerted to help handle the emergency.

Notified by police that the armed woman was still on the loose, officials at some neighboring schools put guards at their doors or sent all students home by bus. But at Hubbard Woods, Mr. Monroe made an important decision: The uninjured students would be kept in the building until the end of the school day, even as horrified parents rushed to the scene to check on their children.

"It was a real hard decision to make,'' he said. "We felt the school was the safest place for them. At this time, we weren't sure where Laurie Dann was.''

School officials were also considering the emotional impact of the shootings on the young pupils.

"If we had released the children, we could not have dealt as effectively with the psychological aftermath,'' Mr. Monroe said. "We would have been saying, 'This is not a safe place, so you must leave it.'''

While the children remained inside the school, an intervention team made up of psychologists, social workers, and clergy talked with them, Mr. Monroe said.

The strategy worked. At 3:15 P.M., the students walked calmly into the arms of anxious parents. Both children and parents returned to the school the next day for another counseling session.

"As soon as possible, we wanted to get the children back in the building'' to let them know it was safe, Mr. Monroe said. "It was much easier for them to come back on Saturday knowing they had stayed on Friday.''

The pressure of the situation intensified as dozens of reporters descended on the school to cover a major national news story. Mr. Monroe said the school district, which has five kindergarten-through-5th-grade schools and one middle school, hired a public-relations consultant to handle the media attention.

Security or Openness?

Still dealing with the shock of the tragedy last week, Mr. Monroe and other officials nonetheless began to address such questions as what might have been done to prevent it.

First was to what extent security should be tightened at a school where trouble from outsiders was not simply rare, but virtually nonexistent.

While many urban school officials have turned to metal detectors to bar weapons, and enforce tight restrictions on campus visitors, schools such as Hubbard Woods have viewed open doors as a way to heighten parental interest in education.

Said Ronald D. Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center in Malibu, Calif.: "Oftentimes, it takes an incident like this for a concern about outsiders to take greater priority. It's incredible how easy it is for any adult to get on a campus.''

Mr. Monroe, however, said he does not like the symbols of locked doors, or a "police presence.''

"We will now try to have our buildings as secure as possible without compromising our close relationship with parents,'' he said, adding, "I think it would be unfortunate if we and other schools overreacted.''

Web Only

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Login | Register
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Back to Top Back to Top

Most Popular Stories