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Tragic Texas School Shooting Sends Shockwaves Through Big Island Community

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Courtesy of Mayor Mitch Roth Facebook page

The elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, sent shockwaves through communities throughout the nation, including on the Big Island.

Nineteen children and two teachers were killed just more than a week ago when an 18-year-old gunman barricaded himself in a fourth-grade classroom at Robb Elementary School. On Tuesday, May 31, the Uvalde community began laying the victims to rest.

Bree Wee, who teaches fourth grade at Kahakai Elementary in Kailua-Kona, said everyone is heartbroken — when teachers shared with their students the news, they were heartbroken.

“No doubt in my mind there’s not a teacher in our school who wouldn’t lay down their life to protect her class,” Wee told Big Island Now.

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The tragedy in Texas has caused Wee to appreciate her job and the blessing it is to wake up to her students every day.

“I don’t know that we needed to see a tragedy to appreciate what we have, but it definitely caused all of us to mourn with the people in Texas,” she added.

Last week, Hawai‘i County laid out 21 chairs with lei wrapped around them — the seats representing the lives lost in Uvalde Texas.

“As a parent, I cannot imagine the loss of my children,” Mayor Mitch Roth said in a Facebook post. “My heart aches for the families and loved ones of those students and their brave teacher. Regardless what county, what state — we must stand together against violence.”

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Following the shooting, Hawai‘i Police Department Deputy Chief Kenneth Bugado Jr. said school resource officers were present at their assigned schools along with community policing officers.

“We did not have the resources to devote to a standby approach at each of the many schools throughout the island; however, we monitored social media and other sources for possible threats and were ready to take action to protect our children,” Bugado told Big Island Now.

Bugado said the “senseless mass shooting incident” had far-reaching effects, including here in Hawai‘i, where some parents question the safety of their children when attending school.

Bugado said HPD continues to work with the state Department of Education to ensure the safety of children while attending school by providing active shooter presentations to staff members of schools islandwide. Along with active shooter training, the deputy chief said the department also conducts scenario-based training, such as Advance Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training.

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“We hope that an active shooter incident never happens here, but our department stands at the ready to protect our community from such a horrible incident,” Bugado said. “We will continue to provide active shooter training for schools islandwide upon their request.”

The DOE told Big Island Now on Wednesday that it continues to take proactive steps in preparing for, preventing, mitigating, responding to and recovering from manmade and natural disasters at the state, complex area and school levels.

All schools are required to have established emergency action plans and are required to perform five drills — lockdown, shelter-in-place, tsunami, earthquake and evacuation — per school year, as well as fire drills on a monthly basis for elementary schools and quarterly for secondary schools.

In addition, the department said it implemented various safety initiatives to mitigate the security challenges associated with Hawai‘i’s open-campus schools, including performing vulnerability assessments, offering active threat response training to schools and complex areas and dedicating resources to increase surveillance and security at schools.

“The department also continues to prioritize the social and emotional well-being of students — through various professional development opportunities on trauma-informed education and social-emotional learning — to ensure that all students feel safe and supported at school,” the DOE stated.

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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