Police turn out at North Fork schools in wake of fatal Texas shooting

Police have ramped up their presence at North Fork schools following Tuesday’s deadly mass shooting at a Texas elementary school. 

An 18-year-old stormed a Uvalde elementary school with an AR-15-style rifle, killing two teachers and 19 students. At least 17 people have been wounded. The massacre is the deadliest school shooting in a decade, since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. 

Southold Town police officers ramped up their presence at schools during pick-up and drop-off times for students on Wednesday. Southold police Chief Martin Flatley said the department may continue an increased presence at schools.

“We did set up extra patrols for the schools today, both when all the students were arriving at school and we’ll probably do it again in the afternoon as they leave, just to kind of give their parents and the kids a little sense of comfort that there’s law enforcement around,” he said Wednesday. 

The department’s school resource officers were “in and around the schools” Wednesday too, he said.

Riverhead police chief David Hegermiller said on Wednesday that officers have “been out in full force” at schools in the town.  “It’s been an all-day event,” he said. “Hopefully we’ve hit all schools to show our presence and support and hopefully to interact with the students.”

“My heart goes out to all the people involved in Texas,” he added.

Both chiefs said they’ve communicated with district superintendents.

Riverhead Central School District Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said police presence isn’t all the district has been doing to help people feel safe during these difficult times.

He said the district’s director of safety and security sent a notification to refresh staff on safety protocols to keep the buildings safe.

In a letter sent home to families in the district, Dr. Tornatore also said that grief counselors will be available at each school in the district.

He said he hopes to keep a police presence at the district until the end of the school year in June.

“I always look forward to any positive interaction between students and police, and where we could all collectively make good choices so that our students can enjoy the end of the school year,” Dr. Tornatore said.

Police presence was increased at the Southold Union Free School District as well to “make people feel more comfortable,” according to district superintendent Anthony Mauro.

In a letter sent home to families, Dr. Mauro said anxiety during these times is to be expected and that the services of the district’s social workers and psychologists are available to school community members.

“When events such as this occur, it is natural for us to feel some anxiety and concern,” he wrote. “Please know that we share your concerns, and the safety and security of our students and staff are our top priority.”

Dr. Mauro said that although there are no concrete plans on how long the increased police presence will last on district grounds, they’re always there when they’re needed.

“They’re a fantastic organization to work with,” he said. “When we reach out to them, they provide support regularly.”

At Shoreham-Wading River Central School District schools, police presence has also been increased.

Superintendent Gerard Poole sent a letter home to families in which he offered the services of the school psychologists and social workers to the school community. In the letter, he included resources from the National Association of School Psychologists for parents and teachers which offer advice on how to talk to children about violence.

Mr.Poole mentions that the district contacted the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office and requested a full security audit. In the letter he mentions the last time the audit had been conducted at the district was in 2019 and “provided valuable feedback and recommendations to enhance our operations,” he wrote.

The letter also pointed out an anonymous reporting tool available on their website, which is just one of the many tools the district uses to identify potential safety concerns, according to the letter.

“It’s less really about reacting to a particular incident; we should always be in the ready,” Mr. Poole said in an interview. “There should always be a level of preparedness and readiness for any event and that is our ongoing focus.”

On Saturday, June 4, Greenport High School will host the biggest mass casualty incident training the North Fork has seen, according to Chip Bancroft, the owner of Firehouse Training Plus. The drill will involve 24 local agencies, including local ambulance companies and fire departments. The Southold Police Department will be teaming up with the Suffolk County Police Department for the event as well.

The Texas shooting comes two weeks after a mass shooting occurred at a Buffalo supermarket, where 10 Black people were murdered in a racist massacre.