The Times file photo by Stephanie Amador // A Noblesville students sits on the ground outside of Noblesville High School May 25, shortly after a male student at Noblesville West Middle School shot a classmate and a teacher.
The Times file photo by Stephanie Amador // A Noblesville students sits on the ground outside of Noblesville High School May 25, shortly after a male student at Noblesville West Middle School shot a classmate and a teacher.
Even in the aftermath of last month’s shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, a group of local parents thinks there’s still time to be proactive in protecting their children.

Save Our Students Noblesville, or S.O.S. Noblesville, formed in late February, shortly after Nikolas Cruz stepped onto the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 rifle and killed 17 people.

S.O.S members took it upon themselves to research security systems, speak with politicians and safety and law enforcement experts and initiate meetings with Noblesville schools' officials. This was before the tragedy on May 25, when a male student at NWMS left class, returned with a pair of handguns and shot classmate Ella Whistler and seventh-grade science teacher Jason Seaman.

Now, S.O.S. wants to make sure their children never have to huddle inside of a dark classroom in fear for their lives again.

“There is always an opportunity, and we need to seize on this,” said Lisa Duell, a Noblesville mother of three and an S.O.S. member. “The bottom line is we first have to acknowledge that what (safety measures) we currently have in place are not enough. Until we acknowledge that, we cannot look at any solutions, we cannot focus on how to improve and truly do something meaningful for the safety of Noblesville schools.”

‘This is real’

Duell’s Friday morning, May 25, began like any other morning, she wrote on her Facebook wall.

She woke up at 5:40 a.m., made her eighth-grader breakfast and got her twins ready for another day of class at Hazel Dell Elementary School. “Wow! What a beautiful day!” her Facebook reads.

Once the kids were all safely on the bus, she enjoyed a cup of coffee while she checked her schedule and then headed into town for a nail appointment. On her way to the salon, a police car drove past her, lights flashing and sirens blazing. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a police car drive that fast.”

She said a quick prayer for whoever the officer was racing toward. Then, her nightmare began.

Duell’s phone rang at 9:05 a.m., and she heard the sound of her friend’s voice. The sheer terror and helplessness she witnessed in her friend’s dialogue was like nothing she’d experienced.

She made out that an active shooting at NWMS – the school her eighth-grader attends – was taking place, and she whipped her car into a U-turn and headed in the same direction as the police car that had just past her.

“Oh my God!” she wrote on her Facebook post. “He was heading to the school! This is real!”

‘Stopping the massacre’

Mike Kersey, Montgomery County multi-jurisdictional SWAT commander, has served as an active-shooter instructor since the 1990s. He started by teaching first responders how to contain a scene and eliminate a threat. Lately, he’s found himself instructing more ordinary citizens, such as school staff and church members, the intricates of dealing with an active shooter.

“It’s a necessity,” Kersey said. “One of the biggest hurdles for a community is to recognize that this is a possibility that can strike anywhere at anytime … The fact that this happened at Noblesville is just mind-boggling, honestly. It should serve as a wake up call to everyone.”

Kersey, who’s researched and tested numerous security systems throughout his career, doesn’t think there’s one solution to safety. In 2010, he said, he realized that current preventative measures in place still weren’t “stopping the massacre.”

“I started conducting my own research, trying to figure out what was out there that we can put together that’s more of a comprehensive package,” Kersey said. “I looked at what are the things that face us in law enforcement … and it was the timeframe, the notification and lack of notification, not only just to (law enforcement) but to those in harm’s way. No protected spaces, no real-time intelligence coming out. The more information you have the better decisions you can make. The better decisions you can make gives you the ability to employ the right tactics.”

Kersey found, he said, one high-end school security system called “Net Talon” that seemed to check off all the right boxes from a technological standpoint.

Features of the system include: real-time communication with law enforcement, bulletproof windows and doors and cameras that identify the assailant in real-time. Net Talon also acts as a fire deterrent and is endorsed by the Indiana Sheriff’s Association and the Indiana Attorney General, among others.

Each teacher also carries a tool called a “FOB” button that serves as a speed-dial to dispatch. A map of the school at the police station, Kersey said, shows officers immediately the area an incident is taking place.

Kersey helped initiate the installation of Net Talon into Southwestern High School in Shelby County. The school is now known as the “safest school in America.”

After the shooting at Parkland, S.O.S. reached out to Kersey for his expertise, and to see how they could bring Net Talon to the 10 schools within Noblesville’s district.

“We wanted to find something that had the endorsement of national and independent experts,” Duell said. “(Net Talon) is the only thing that does.”

S.O.S. created a petition titled “Support Safer Schools for Noblesville” and presented their findings at a March school board meeting. At the time of print, 1,686 signatures were on the petition. 

The Times’ newsgathering partner WTHR reported that Noblesville schools said in a statement following the March meeting that any changes made to current safety practices and procedures will be based on what experts say is best for students and staff.

An answer that didn’t sit well with members of S.O.S.

“We (parents) want to be part of those conversations,” Duell said. “We deserve to be. All parents deserve to be. We deserve to be part of finding the solution – not being told what the solution is going to be.”

Duell cited Indiana Public Law 27 – she appears to know it like the back of her hand – as the reason why Net Talon is S.O.S.’s choice.

The Department of Homeland Security identified where the weaknesses are in a school, she said, and wrote guidelines to help bridge them.

The report stresses the importance of a “protected space,” which is defined as a location in which occupants can retreat from an attack when evacuation is not prudent. A component of Net Talon’s technology, with bulletproof windows and door locks. 

“That’s important, because we have to rely on national experts,” Duell said. “The reason we formed the petition is because this system is the only emergency response system that is defined that adheres to Public Law 27 and the guidelines within it.”

One current arrangement S.O.S. wants to see the district abolish before the start of next school year is the use of “portable classrooms,” a building installed on the exterior of a school to provide additional classroom space. Noblesville district had five such classrooms last year, said Noblesville spokesperson Marnie Cooke, and has used them since 1991.

“Portable classrooms have been a common tool used by growing districts throughout Hamilton County and the state,” Cooke wrote in an email to The Times. “They have helped manage enrollment.”

As part of a safety-enhancement analysis, Cooke said, the district will review the use of portable classrooms moving forward.

‘No single answer’

Duell feels, she said, that recent news coverage of S.O.S. has painted a picture of the group against Noblesville schools. It’s not like that at all, she said.

“The SRO, the teachers, the staff, the bus drivers – every one of them was amazing (during the shooting),” she said. “They did everything they could with the limited tools they have available … We have got to give them better tools.”

Thor Eells, executive director of the National Tactical Officers Association, thinks Net Talon is an asset to safety, but the system alone won’t solve the problem.

“A lot of people get focused on the technology, but that’s simply just a component of a more holistic approach to safety within a school district,” Eells said. “It’s all these little things that, when coupled together, provide an environment that is safe. Unfortunately, there are a lot of pundits that are getting in the ear of the media that the answer is gun control, more metal detectors, more (student resource officers) -- the truth of the matter is none of that is correct. They each do play a role, absolutely, but there is no single one answer.”

School districts should, Eells said, conduct training sessions with staff so everyone can better understand their roles in a given situation. No magic number exists on the amount of time spent in preparation, Eells said, as “the key aspect is that there should be some degree of training, but it should be simplistic, because we don’t hire teachers to be critical-incident managers. We hire them to educate children.”

Noblesville schools does hold ALICE (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) Training throughout the year, said Cooke. She was unable to provide The Times with the dates the district performed the training last school year, but said the drills are done on a regular and ongoing basis.

‘Work needs to be done’

Max Schachter, father of Parkland shooting victim Alex Schachter, couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the news break of an active shooter at a school in Noblesville.

As the chairman of a task force called “Safer Schools for Alex,” Max Schachter has advocated for school safety improvements nationwide. Over the months following the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, he’d also been in contact with S.O.S. to offer any insight he could.

“Our mission is to make Marjorie Stoneman Douglas the pilot -- make that the safest school -- and then expand that to the other four Parkland schools in Broward County and the entire nation,” he said. “People are scared. Teachers are scared, the kids are scared and there’s been a lack of progress. My job and my goal is try and make advancements as quickly as possible.”

Since the shooting at Columbine High School April 20, 1999, Schachter said, the focus has been on mental health and prevention. And, while that aspect is important, he said, it’s been at the detriment of school hardening.

“He (the shooter at NWMS) got two guns on campus,” Schachter said. “I don’t see how anybody could be excited about their security at that school just like the security at our school and all the other school shootings. A lot of work needs to be done.”

Kersey doesn’t think you can just point a finger at any one individual or area when a tragedy such as a school shooting occurs, he said, and it’s the community’s responsibility to respond to the threat. “Every community needs to decide what priorities they have on the safety of their schools, their children and their staff and how they want to respond to that and what they want to dedicate to that.” he said. “They (S.O.S.) were preparing for ‘when’, not ‘if” -- now, ‘when’ has passed.”

‘A very noble community cause’

The next Noblesville School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Noblesville Schools Educational Center, located at 18025 River Road.

S.O.S. members will attend, Duell said, and she hopes a good portion of the community will also come out.

She also wants the public to make their voice heard before the start of 2019, when legislatures will vote on a partial taxable funding model bill.

“It’s critical that we ask our legislators, ‘Are you for this?’” she said. “We have got to give our schools … the resources that they need that can actually save a life.”

In the meantime, Eells said students and parents should discuss how both sides will react in the event of an active-shooter situation. With so many of these tragedies, he said, early warning signs are neglected. He encourages students to not assume a classmate is joking when they make an inappropriate comment. It’s better to look into suspicious behavior as a preventative measure, he said, than to find out after the fact it was serious.

“I think that what they’re trying to do is a very noble community cause and effort,” Eells said. “From my interaction with (S.O.S.) they’ve done a really good job of trying to find good answers and educate themselves on what are all the potential alternatives or possibilities for improving school safety. I do think what they have done is correctly identify that this is a multilayer, multifaceted need. It’s not anyone thing. It’s not A.L.I.C.E Training, it’s not just metal detectors … it’s a multifaceted approach using technology, such as Net Talon, training your staff, educating the students on what the expectations are of them in case of an emergency ... That type of holistic approach is really what is creating the best opportunity for a safe environment in a school.”