Inside Report for Jan. 30, 2013

A special perspective on arming teachers

As Louisiana policy makers debate how best to increase school security following the Dec. 14 school shootings in Newtown, Conn., advocates of arming educators may find themselves drawn to the story of Joel Myrick.

Myrick was an assistant principal at Pearl High School, just outside Jackson, Miss., when 16-year-old Luke Woodham turned a hunting rifle on his classmates, killing two and wounding seven others, on Oct. 1, 1997.

Myrick was a National Guard combat unit commander and, before becoming assistant principal, a physics teacher who taught with obvious authority on topics like ballistics and the wind resistance of a parachute.

When he heard the gunshots that morning, Myrick ran to retrieve his Colt .45 from his truck and was able to apprehend the fleeing Woodham, holding him until police arrived.

Woodham, who had rounds to spare, reportedly intended to continue his attack at the junior high school.

Given his story, Myrick would seem the perfect advocate for arming teachers — if only he believed that were the answer.

In a Jan. 10 interview, Myrick said his military training, including operating under extreme stress, made his situation unique.

“I had played this shooter scenario multiple times in my head prior to it occurring,” he said.

Nevertheless, loading his weapon on school property seemed foreign to him. “All this bravado, this past patriotic posturing, quickly disappears as I lift the pistol … ready to load a round into the chamber,” Myrick wrote in a first-hand account of the shooting for former Pearl Schools Superintendent William Dodson’s 2009 book, “If Only I Had Known.”

“At that moment, I forget why I am doing what I am doing. All I can think is ‘I am loading my gun on school property.’ The act so foreign, so incredibly wrong. Guns, school: Like placing a hand in the fire, I never do this,” Myrick wrote.

Myrick said in an interview that he didn’t know how the outcome might have changed had his gun been in the school building.

“I may have stopped (Woodham’s) last few shots. I may have been killed. I may have killed innocent kids,” he said.

“I think Christina (Menefee) and Lydia (Dew) would have been dead anyway,” he said of the two girls Woodham killed.

Myrick said he is opposed to arming school personnel. He advocates at least one trained, armed officer on every school campus.

“We provide armed protection for what we cherish — freedom, homes, banks, movie stars and wealthy people,” he said. “Children are mandated by law to attend school, so the law has a duty to provide a safe place.”

School resource officers also should be freed from some of the tasks they currently perform, such as safety inspections and handling paperwork, in order to focus their efforts on defending their schools, he said.

The sole purpose of school defense officers, as Myrick would call them, should be to serve as a visible, armed presence for deterrence, he said.

School shootings are not completely preventable, “but greater deterrence is possible,” Myrick said.

That deterrence should be entrusted to trained professionals, such as former police officers and military personnel, rather than educators whose focus should be on the children, he said.

Heidi Kinchen, a 1997 graduate of Pearl High, covers education in Livingston, Tangipahoa and St. Helena parishes. She can be reached at hkinchen@theadvocate.com.