MILLEDGEVILLE — Twenty-year old Adam Lanza’s name will always be remembered by the Newtown, Conn. community as the gunman who opened fire inside an elementary school and took the life of his mother, a school teacher, and 26 people, including 20 children.
Though almost 1,000 miles apart, the Baldwin County community felt waves from Friday’s tragedy as well.
“This tragic incident has put the whole nation on alert. It makes us feel so blessed to be in a town like Milledgeville, but I’m sure that same town [Newtown] felt the same way,” said Mark Hopkins, head of school for John Milledge Academy. “It’s heartbreaking and heart-wrenching. I do not see how people make it through without hanging on closely to their faith; you have to cling to it in tragic times like this. I don’t know of a school in the nation that would be prepared for something like this.”
Blandy Hills Elementary School Principal Charlene Thorpe said Friday afternoon that while thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims in the Connecticut school district, plans will continue annually to keep safety procedures and protocols up-to-date at the local schools.
“We look for all measures to keep our faculty, staff, scholars and parents safe. All who enter the building must wear a visitor’s pass, we make sure exit doors are locked, we watch the front door to see who’s transitioning throughout Blandy Hills daily, and we practice mock lockdowns and unannounced drills,” Thorpe said. “At Blandy we take safety serious. When talking to students during a tragic time like this, you have to talk to them on an appropriate level and keep reiterating that safety is priority.”
According to Associated Press reports Friday, the Connecticut gunman drove to the school in his mother’s car, an official said. Three guns were found — a Glock and a Sig Sauer, both pistols, inside the school, and a .223-caliber rifle in the back of a car. Armed with two handguns, he committed suicide and another person was found dead at a second scene, bringing the toll to 28, authorities said Friday afternoon.
Panicked parents raced to Sandy Hook Elementary School, about 60 miles northeast of New York City, looking for their children. Students were told to close their eyes by police as they were led from the building.
A tearful President Barack Obama said Friday he grieved about the massacre as a father first, declaring “our hearts are broken today.” In the remarks following the events, he promised action to prevent such tragedies again but did not say what that would be. The scene in the White House briefing room was one of the most outwardly emotional moments of Obama's presidency.
“The majority of those who died were children — beautiful, little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old,” Obama said. “They had their entire lives ahead of them — birthdays, graduations, wedding, kids of their own. Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children.”
The attack, coming less than two weeks before Christmas, was the nation’s second-deadliest school shooting, exceeded only by the Virginia Tech massacre that left 33 people dead in 2007.
“All of our schools practice safety procedures, but there’s nothing that will prepare you for such a tragic accident. As much as you would like to be prepared, you can’t be prepared enough. We practice fire drills and lockdowns, but when something like this really happens, there’s a million things we can do different and better, but it’s just not enough,” Hopkins said. “I’m sure we will find out in the next few days that there were some brave adults that protected those children from that gunman. I’m just torn up inside and out. My prayers go out to the whole John Milledge family and those families concerned with the shooting.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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