Elmira Notre Dame High School and West Nickel Mines Amish School, located 200 miles apart, are religious-based institutions with no previous history of major violence. Tragically, those similarities ended Oct. 2.
That’s when six people, including five female students, were killed in a gun attack at West Nickel Mines. The tragedy, as well as other recent school shootings around the nation, have reinforced the notion of “never say never” for Notre Dame.
“To say it’s not going to happen in a small community … it can happen anywhere,” said Brian Minchin, a former law-enforcement official and a member of Notre Dame’s emergency-management team that also consists of faculty and administrators.
“It’s actually put everybody on the defensive; it’s triggered an internal mechanism that they have to keep their eyes and ears open,” Minchin continued. “Before, you used to take things for granted. You can’t do it anymore.”
Based on this reality, the high school is reviewing its own security system. A meeting was held in mid-October during which the emergency-management team urged faculty to remain mindful of keeping classroom and school doors locked, and make sure guests are properly signed in.
“From 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., faculty and staff are the parents of those children. Everybody wants their children going to a safe environment,” Minchin said. “The main thing is getting word out that they’re the eyes and ears, that first line.”
Meeting participants also reviewed procedures specific to Notre Dame for being prepared and remaining calm should an emergency arise. Minchin declined to provide specific details, saying he doesn’t want to aid a potential attacker by sharing such information.
In addition, Notre Dame has undergone a security audit by an outside agency, the outcome of which might spur even stronger security measures. Audit results are still pending.
Minchin has served as the school’s director of buildings and grounds since April 2000, when he retired as deputy chief of police for the Elmira Police Department. He acknowledged that there are no employees hired specifically for security at Notre Dame — as there are at Elmira’s public high schools — due to the potential cost for the private institution. However, he said that one of his responsibilities is to be vigilant as he makes his rounds, adding that some other faculty and emergency-team members have backgrounds in law enforcement as well.
Minchin said there has never been a deathly violent incident at Notre Dame.
“No, thank goodness. But that doesn’t mean we can put our guard down,” he remarked.
On Oct. 2, in Lancaster County, near Philadelphia, 32-year-old Carl Charles Roberts IV entered the one-room West Nickel Mines school and shot 10 Amish female students, ages 6 to 13, and then himself. Five of the girls and Roberts died. It was the nation’s third deadly school shooting in a week, following the killing of a 16-year-old girl by an adult male (who also killed himself) on Sept. 27 in Colorado and the shooting death of a principal by a ninth-grade student on Sept. 29 in Wisconsin.
Elmira came perilously close to joining the list in 2001. Jeremy Getman, then 18, was apprehended by police in the Southside High School cafeteria and discovered to have brought an array of bombs and guns to school that he had allegedly planned to use that day.
Two years earlier, the most deadly school-shooting outburst in United States history occurred in Columbine, Colo. Two Columbine High teens, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, killed 12 fellow students and a teacher and wounded many others on April 20, 1999, before turning their guns on themselves.