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First Responders From Nation's Worst Tragedies Offer Insights [GALLERY]

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By Julie Montanaro
July 9, 2013

When you send your child to school you want to believe they're safe.

First responders and school leaders are at a summit in Gadsden County right now getting advice from folks on the front lines of school violence in the tree lined streets of Connecticut and the dusty roads of Alabama.

"It was almost like a bad dream, you know, you just wanted to wake up," Dale County Sheriff Wally Olson.

That's how the sheriff of Dale County, Alabama describes the day a gunman stormed aboard a school bus, shot the driver and took a five year old boy hostage.

"The emotion that I had, you know, I have two children of my own. They're three and seven. It could have been, very easily been my child on that bus," Olson said.

Olson made the trip to Gadsden County to address first responders and educators from rural communties all over Florida. Communities whose resources could be quickly overwhelmed should tragedy strike at school.

Lt. Paul Vance was one of those called in to help in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in the small town of Newtown.

"This tragedy struck everyone right here in the heart. This tragedy is something we can all learn from," Vance said. "All the people will take something away."

Vance is the Connecticut State Police lieutenant who conducted dozens of media briefings in the hours and days after a gunman killed 20 children and six teachers and staff.

"It didn't matter what color uniform... shirts we wore or what badge we had on our chest, our objective was united and unique, we had to go in and save lives," Vance said.

"What I saw isn't something anybody could ever prepare themselves for or anybody could ever forget. It's nothing you could ever describe or imagine," said Newtown Police Lt. Christopher Vanghele.

Vanghele was on duty in Newtown Connecticut the day a man opened fire at the elementary school. He was one of the first to draw his gun and walk in to the halls of Sandy Hook.

"Just us arriving there when we did made that shooter stop and take his own life and that saved hundreds of other lives," Vanghele said.

First responders are hoping to learn lessons from these tragedies. More than 300 police, deputies, firefighters, teachers and others attended the Rural County Summit at the Florida Public Safety Institute in Midway Tuesday.

"There's no written book about, you know, these situations. You have to hit the ground running. Things happen that you haven't trained for," Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young said.

"We have to help talk about that now so we can do exactly the right thing if and when it does happen," U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh said.

The first responders started the summit with the beseaching words of a Gadsden County mother.

"She was only 15 years old," Cynthia Riley said choking back tears, "dead."

Cynthia Riley's daughter Crystal was run over and killed by a teen in a stolen car at East Gadsden High School back in 2006. The teen behind the wheel is now serving 22 years in prison.

"I'm here because I don't want what happened to my daughter to happen to another child. I don't want what I feel to happen to another mother," Riley said.

The summit continues Wednesday. It is open only to first responders and school leaders.

We were invited to cover the summit's opening speakers, but sessions with specifics and strategies were off limits to the press.


By: Julie Montanaro
July 9, 2013

More than 300 first responders are gathered in Gadsden County for a two day summit on school safety.

U.S Attorney Pamela Marsh said agencies in rural counties have to count on hard work and innovation to deal with crises that can quickly overwhelm their resources.

There are police, deputies, firefighters and other first responders from all over the state.

Lt Paul Vance - the Connecticut State Police officer - who handled all the media briefings in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook is the first scheduled speaker.


By: Julie Montanaro
July 2, 2013

Sandy Hook, Connecticut and Dale County, Alabama are small towns. Both have been the scene of big tragedies.

Now some of those who were in the thick of them are coming to our area to share their stories of how they coped - and are still coping - with school violence.

It's part of the Rural County Summit which will be held in Gadsden County next week.

The Dale County Sheriff and an associate school superintendent will discuss the impact of a student hostage ordeal and the shooting death of a school bus driver there.

The man who addressed the press each day in the wake of the Newtown school shootings will be at the summit too.

"We have people that actually lived it. We have people that had boots on the ground, in the trenches, there that day dealing with everything from the 911 call to the recovery effort," said Gadsden County Captain Jim Corder.

Corder says both towns are similar in size to Quincy and law enforcement officers, first responders and school leaders around here are interested in finding out how they were able to rally resources.

The Rural County Summit will be held at the Pat Thomas Academy in Midway next week. More than 125 law enforcement officers and school leaders are expected to attend. The sessions are not open to the public.


Press Release: Pat Thomas Academy

For Immediate Release
July 1, 2013

PAT THOMAS ACADEMY - The 2nd annual Rural County Summit in Havana, Fla. will focus on school safety emergency response and preparedness. More than 100 law enforcement professionals, school district administrators, emergency management and first responders from Escambia to Columbia County are scheduled to attend the event. The Summit is July 9 and 10 at Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.

The Summit is organized by the Gadsden County Sheriff’s Office in partnership with United States Attorney Pamela Marsh, the North Florida Domestic Security Task Force and the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Sessions include Sandy Hook Elementary School Response, Preparing for Mass Causality Incidents, Establishing Student Situation Resolution Teams, Anatomy of a School Hostage Incident, Active Shooter Best Practice, and Resources Available to Secure Schools.

Speakers include Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance, Newtown Police Department Lt. Christopher Vanghelle, Dale County, Ala. Sheriff Wally Olson, Dale County Associate Superintendent Lamar Brooks, Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Steven Richardson, Leon County School Safety and Security Director John Hunkiar.

Because of the security information presented in these sessions, most of the Summit is closed to the media and public. To accommodate reporters who wish to cover the story, a media availability is scheduled on Tuesday, July 9 at 9 a.m. In addition, opening remarks will be open to the media.

Who: Lt. Paul Vance, Connecticut State Police, the first Summit speaker, will discuss the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting. Dale County Ala. Sheriff Wally Olson will outline the school hostage incident that happened in January. U.S. Attorney Pamela Marsh and Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young will discuss the importance of this Summit.

Date: Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Time: 9 a.m.
Location: Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy
85 Academy Drive
Havana, Fla.


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