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Reykdal: As parent and schools chief, shootings something you dread

UPDATED: Wed., Sept. 13, 2017, 7:16 p.m.

A Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy stand guard outside Freeman High School after a shooting. Sept. 13, 2017. Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
A Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy stand guard outside Freeman High School after a shooting. Sept. 13, 2017. Dan Pelle/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

OLYMPIA – Chris Reykdal had two reactions to the news of the shooting at Freeman High School. One as the superintendent of the state’s public school system, the other as a parent with two children in school.

“It is every parent’s worst nightmare,” said Reykdal, who has children in sixth and eighth grade. “I think about it. I worry about it.”

As superintendent of public instruction, he knows every school district must have an “active shooter” plan in place, and that the state several years ago improved the ratio of counselors to students. Those counselors and other school staff are trained to look for signs of mental health problems. But as a former legislator and school board member, he also knows, from a practical standpoint, “you just can’t get to every kid in time.”

So, as both a parent and a school official, he said, “you dread it.”

The local educational service district had already begun to provide mental health assistance for students and school staff, and the state office is ready to provide any additional help the Freeman district might seek, he said.

The Freeman High School shooting was the first such incident in a Washington school since Reykdal took office in January. It was the second shooting in a U.S. educational institution in 24 hours – a security guard was shot and wounded by an unknown gunman Tuesday night at a small college in Minnesota – and the 31st in the nation this year, according to Moms Demand Action, a gun safety and control organization.

Special Coverage: Freeman High School shooting

One Freeman High School student is dead, three more are wounded and the shooting suspect — a classmate — is in custody. | Get the latest updates on the school shooting here. »

Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, who was shot while meeting with constituents, said such “horrific acts of violence” should never be considered routine. “Our children deserve better, which is why we must stand together and call on our nation’s leaders to find the courage to take action and keep our children safe,” said Giffords, the co-founder of the gun-violence prevention group Americans for Responsible Solutions.

Elected officials at all levels of government reacted with shock and sorrow to news of the Freeman shooting.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French called it a “dark day for our region” but praised members of the sheriff’s department who responded to the shooting.

“We hear about these unthinkable acts happening elsewhere, but we never think it can happen so close to home, until it does,” French said. The focus should now shift to healing those who were harmed and finding ways to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who was traveling in central Washington on Wednesday, called it “heartbreaking” and “an unthinkable tragedy” and promised the State Patrol and other agencies will do whatever they can to provide help and comfort in the days to come.

“All Washingtonians are thinking of the victims and their families and are grateful for the service of school staff and first responders working to keep our students safe,” he said in a news release issued shortly after noon.

State Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, whose district includes the Freeman schools, said he’s waiting for more information, but in the meantime, “my heart goes out to my many friends in the Freeman District and the families and students involved in this great tragedy.”

Schoesler said he has complete confidence in Spokane County law enforcement to respond to the shooting, but that the state needs to “look to the future of how to prevent these senseless tragedies.”

Legislators from neighboring Spokane-area districts sent offers of support to the school district and praise for school officials and first responders who handled the incident.

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers offered thanks to those who responded to the shooting, and school officials who “helped take quick action to avoid further tragedy.” She asked for prayers for the victims, their families and the entire community.

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray echoed Inslee’s comment that the news out of Spokane County was heartbreaking. “My thoughts and prayers are with students, teachers, parents, first responders and the entire community,” she wrote on Twitter.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell said her heart is with the students, staff and community, “particularly with the family of the young victim,” and promised to stay in touch with local officials to learn the cause of the incident.

“While we are still learning about today’s shooting, we know there were many who showed unbelievable courage in the face of danger,” she said in an email.