By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Far away as they were, the recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School cast a long shadow across the nation and to Volusia County Schools.
Greg Akin, director of transportation services and emergency management, said school officials are examining news coming from Newtown, Conn., to see if there's anything additional they can do to make students safer when they return to class in January.
"Parents are a great help to us preparing their students (to be safe)," Mr. Akin said. "If they do have weapons at home, they should lock them up correctly."
According to numerous reports, 20-year-old Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook on Friday, Dec. 14, and shot and killed 20 students, along with six adults. He allegedly shot and killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, hours earlier, then took at least three guns she legally owned to the school. The shooting spree ended with his suicide.
While the Connecticut incident is startling, Mr. Akin said it was an exceptional event and school safety is also a matter of managing common dangers.
In the 2011-2012 school year, no children were seriously injured or killed by any weapons at Volusia campuses. During the same time, two students were killed in school-related traffic incidents. There were 27 vehicle-on-pedestrian student incidents reported. Few resulted in injuries.
Cameron Brenneman, 12, was killed when a family member accidentally struck him after dropping him off near Ormond Beach Middle School instead of the designated student drop-off and pickup area. Brandon Vera, 16, was fatally injured while walking to University High School, about a half mile from River Springs Middle School.
Volusia County Schools held a series of public meetings on campus traffic safety with law-enforcement officials, parents and others and made changes to reduce vehicular hazards to students.
Mr. Akin said there have been no injuries or deaths related to weapons at Volusia campuses this school year either. However, a University High School student died in an accidental shooting at the Orange City public library on Nov. 15.
Orange City Police Detective Ken Jones said witnesses claimed Yardeh Gaueier had taken a .38-caliber revolver belonging to Regional Odom from a car not long before accidentally shooting himself with it.
Detective Jones wouldn't comment on whether Mr. Odom had taken reasonable measures to secure his weapon from children and youths that Florida law requires, but said the investigation is continuing. The detective said that in his decade of law-enforcement experience, a lot of gun-related injuries and deaths could be easily avoided by trigger locks, gun safes, and separated storage of guns and ammunition.
"Keep guns under lock and key to keep bad things from happening," he said.
Orange City Police are unsure if Yardeh ever took the revolver to school.
Randel Henderson, deputy chief of the DeLand Police Department, echoed Detective Jones. Deputy Chief Henderson has 35 years of law enforcement experience and said he's seen many easily avoided child and youth shootings, but very few happen at school campuses. Most, he said, happen at homes with improperly secured firearms.
"Anyone can fire (a gun)," he said. "Anyone can fire one. The machine is so simple that even children 4 years old can manipulate this instrument."
The DeLand Police investigated the shooting death of DeLand High student Calvin Nealy Jr. in April, 2011. He was at a friend's home when the shooting occurred. Sgt. Estes, public information officer, said that 16-year-old Erik Lavon Gibson was charged in the shooting.
"They were sitting under a carport with this gun," Sgt. Estes said. "They passed it around fiddling with it. At one point, several report that Mr. Gibson was twirling it on his finger. It may have gone off because he was twirling it."
DeLand Police are unsure if that gun had ever been to any school campuses. DeLand High has had students take guns to campus. In 2007, Principal Mitch Moyer confronted student Raphael Barber when others reported he had a .32-caliber pistol. The principal separated and confronted the student, who easily surrendered the gun. The Volusia County Sheriff's Office later arrested the youth.
Deputy Chief Henderson said he believes it's important to teach all children firearm safety, and that includes properly securing them. He said none of his three children ever had unsupervised access to any operable guns.
Mr. Akin said Volusia schools regularly train for various situations, including shooters.
"We've done full-scale exercises with law enforcement on active shooter scenarios," he said.
However, he wouldn't give many details about what the training includes.
"A football team doesn't give away its offense plans," he said.
The Volusia Sheriff's Office has 14 school resource officers rotated among campuses. Local law-enforcement agencies say officers regularly monitor campuses to reduce traffic and other dangers.