In wake of Parkland, some say ‘it can happen’ in the Keys

Key West High School students on Thursday absorbed the horrific news out of Broward County.
Key West High School students on Thursday absorbed the horrific news out of Broward County. Keynoter

At age 17, Key West High School student Gena Trenco says she feels generally safe on campus but is aware violence can happen anywhere these days.

“It’s really scary,” Trenco said while leaving school Thursday, the day after 17 students were shot and killed at a Broward County high school some four hours away from Key West. “It can happen.”

Trenco said Thursday some teachers were talking about the Wednesday massacre in the small, and once tranquil, city of Parkland, population 31,000.

“They told us what to do if something were to happen,” Trenco said.

Other students differed, saying they don’t feel prepared for the worst case of an active shooter on campus, such as the horror that unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, which police said was done by a student who had been expelled.

“They should tell us what to do,” said Cassie Daley, 18.

That will change, Key West Police Chief Donie Lee said in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting.

“We need to double down on what we're doing,” Lee said in a statement Friday. “We need to look at our capabilities, address the challenges, and implement any changes we can. We need to do all that we can do.”

Lee plans to sit down with school administrators and mental-health officials to explore every possibility of ensuring that gun violence does not occur in this community, said police spokeswoman Alyson Crean, but first he wants to sit down with “key stakeholders” next week to explore ways in which law enforcement and the schools can tighten security.

“The horrific casualties in Broward County show once again how delicate the balance is between home and school interactions for a student,” said Superintendent Mark Porter in a statement. “We must continue to be aware, compassionate, and alert to any warning signs or situations where someone may be in need or be troubled.”

Porter said Monroe County schools have a comprehensive plan in place for the unthinkable and though the schools cannot share the specifics, they include emergency drills, interventions with troubled students and a new campaign this year to educate students on the “appropriate ways” to use social media.

“This is an effort to remind them of the dangers and serious consequences that come from displaying inappropriate content and messaging it to others,” the district said in a statement.

Schools here have held active-shooter drills. Florida Keys Community College on Stock Island held one last month. Another was held at the pre-K through eighth-grade Horace O’Bryant School in October.

Staff were shown a video that tells them the order of reactions to an active shooter is: “Run. Hide. Fight.”

“We really have been on top of this,” said School Board member John Dick. “We have been active for years.”

“We’ve done this at a number of schools,” said Deputy Becky Herrin, spokeswoman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office. “All you can do is prepare the best you can and know what you’re going to do if it ever really happens.”

Shane Smith, 17, left Key West High on Thursday having learned one of his teachers had taught at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

But he also left feeling protected at his school.

“I feel pretty safe,” Smith said.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen