By Dina Martin
Staff and students at Taft Union High School didn’t think a shooting would happen on their school grounds, less than a month after a school shooting in Newtown, Conn., took the lives of 20 children and six adults. But it did.
“We’ve always felt very safe here and have had no difficulties on campus,” says Claude Bradford, a counselor at Taft High and president of the Taft High Teachers Association. “It always happens ‘somewhere else.’”
But that’s not what happened on Thursday, Jan. 10, when a 16-year-old student wounded a classmate with a shotgun and made heroes out of teacher Ryan Heber and campus supervisor Kim Lee Fields, who persuaded the shooter to relinquish his weapon. Heber suffered a minor pellet wound to the head. The suspect was taken into custody and the school was closed until the following Tuesday.
Although the heroics of Heber and Fields were praised by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, the science teacher has maintained a low profile since the incident and declined to speak further to the media.
"I'm not ready yet to talk about what happened in my classroom. I don't feel comfortable being called a hero. I'm just a teacher, a husband and a father to my two boys," Heber told the local ABC TV affiliate.
In many ways, everything was done right at Taft. Just that morning, teachers had discussed new lockdown procedures with their students in light of the killing spree in Newtown. A neighbor near the school saw the suspect carrying a shotgun and called 911. Video surveillance captured the suspect as he nervously entered the school and made his way to Heber’s science class. More than two dozen classmates were able to escape while Heber and Fields distracted the shooter. Students were taken into the school auditorium and released to the care of their parents.
When students returned to school, grief counselors and school psychologists from far and near were there to provide assistance — an offer that many accepted. The school’s teachers and staff were feeling the trauma as well, Bradford reports, and classroom work was given over to a day of talking with each other.
“Everyone is against violence in the classroom,” Bradford says. “But what to do about it is the issue.” A well-publicized proposal by the National Rifle Association to combat violence in schools by arming teachers with guns draws little enthusiasm from Bradford.
“It wouldn’t have made a difference,” he says. “Things like this happen in an instant.”
Longtime gun and school safety advocates, CTA and NEA took action offering assistance and resources. CTA’s State Council addresses went on record opposing the arming of educators, and CTA offered advice and resources to Congressman Mike Thompson from Sonoma County, the new chair of the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
“We’re going to have to make some changes here,“ Bradford adds. “Maybe that will be the good that comes out of this.”