AASD urged to arm guards in schools

State troopers who are also parents speak out at meeting

State troopers who are also parents in the Altoona Area School District urged the school board Monday to have an armed person in each school to ramp up security.

Cpl. Warren Rhyner, who works out of the Hollidaysburg barracks, hammered that point home. He broke down the Feb. 14 shooting in Florida perpetrated by Nikolas Cruz who killed 17 people.

“That kid had four minutes in the school. It’s not a long time. … I can’t get here in four minutes,” he said. “My point is you need somebody here, armed, if it happens. My research showed former students or current students are the ones who do the shootings.”

Statistics assert half of those who commit shootings give warnings or notes before they do it. In Williamsburg Community School District on March 9, that was the case; the student sent a Snapchat. The student threatened to bring a gun to school. Police determined the threat was credible. Rhyner said he was involved with arresting that 17-year-old male.

“Someday maybe they don’t tell somebody,” he said. “I can’t get there in four minutes, I just can’t.”

Retired Trooper Jeff Petucci is a father of three children in the Altoona Area School District.

“I commend the district on being proactive with active shooter training in February; that was planned well ahead of what happened in Florida. But one thing you can improve on is vetting elementary school visitors. I think you need an Act 235 certified person to vet them,” he said. Act 235 means armed.

The district has five armed officers. One is permanently posted at the junior high.

“Police do an outstanding job, but they can’t be everywhere all the time,” Petucci said.

Although Petucci is retired, he said he is not looking for the job.

Superintendent Charles Prijatelj informed the troopers that the district is currently working with state police in Harrisburg to conduct a hazard and vulnerability assessment of all of its school buildings. The results would be used for the district’s emergency operations plans.

Rhyner also offered to help with that effort.