Growing Violence in Alexandria

Dante Ornelas '24, Mollie Kemp '23,

Luke Rapallo '24

These days it can feel like almost nowhere is safe. Apart from the looming threat of Covid-19, violence in Alexandria has risen to new heights. From threats at schools to shootings and acts of violence at businesses and restaurants, there is no denying there has been a recent uptick in violence in our area. But what are we doing as a school community to combat this?

In relation to this recent violence, we wanted to discuss safety protocols with Upper School Security Officer Mr. Ratliff, to see what would happen if there was an armed threat on campus. “Here at SSSAS we utilize the safety protocol known as ALICE for any armed threat. This stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, and Evacuate. Essentially what we teach our community is to react quickly, efficiently and calmly in this circumstance and, utilizing all available information, make an informed decision that provides the best chance and opportunity to stay safe. We also have electronic systems in place that allow the school to easily and quickly lock all exterior doors and notify the police, as well as redundant communications systems to allow us to keep our community well-informed. Our school is also in close partnership with local police and first responders, who have conducted training exercises in our buildings.” Our school has protocols in place in order to protect our community from threats.

While this school is privileged to have security that works hard to diminish any possibility of a threat, the possibility of a threat is still out there.  In an effort to learn more about what happens when a threat arises, we interviewed Director of Safety and Security Eric Hols to understand their process more. Mr. Hols, in regard to his job and the security team, said  “I am responsible for directing all of the safety, security, and emergency management efforts of the school. I supervise our four Security Officers, I plan and direct our emergency drills, I oversee the operation of all of our safety and security systems and equipment, and head up our Threat Assessment Team as well as the School's Safety Committee.”

 One example of a perceived threat would be the recent threat at Francis C Hammond middle school. WTOP reported that “Alexandria police said they received a call around 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 15th, about a shooting at Francis C. Hammond Middle School on Seminary Road. The school was temporarily put on lockdown. After a search, police determined the call was unfounded. A student was taken to the hospital after suffering a medical event while officers conducted the search. Essentially one of the protocols is determining the credibility of the threat because there are some occasions that the threat was just someone trying to scare a school.”

To this day, some schools do not allow any form of security because students protest that they make them uncomfortable or are a violation of their privacy. The Washington Post reported on October 13 that “After several incidents involving students and guns this fall escalated safety concerns, parents and top school officials pleaded with the council to reinstate the decades-old initiative. This week, their calls were enough to sway just one key lawmaker.” The Alexandria city council voted to put police and security back in schools to reduce the threat of violence. 

At SSSAS, Mr. Hols said, “One of the most important things a school can do to help stay safe is to prevent a crime from taking place in the first place. This means creating an atmosphere where students, staff and faculty take ownership of the school's safety, and where they feel comfortable talking about and reporting suspicious activities, unusual observations, or concerning behavior. In turn, it is important that this information then be reviewed and evaluated carefully for possible threats, either to self or others. This is known as Threat Assessment and is a key component of our crime prevention efforts at SSSAS. It is also a key part of see Something, Say Something.” 

Now that we are more aware of how schools would react in the face of a threat, it is still important we know how the rest of the world is reacting. To find out more about this, we travelled to Bradlee Center, to talk to some employees there to see how they feel about recent crime. In an interview on November 1 with a security guard working at the Bradlee center McDonald’s, he explained that he was stationed in the McDonald’s a week after the first arrest on October 5, when a juvenile from ACHS attacked an older man, resulting in the juvenile’s arrest. The security guard noted that he and another guard switch off and are only stationed on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. In addition to the McDonald’s guard, there is also a police car that drives around the Bradlee center. 

A senior at ACHS who asked to remain anonymous, replied in a quick interview also at the McDonald’s that he did know the person suspected of bringing a gun to school saying, “Yeah. They were actually saying that he was here at McDonald’s.” He commented that he did know students who brought guns to his school for their protection. The student concluded that McDonald’s seemed to be the hotspot for students from his school to hangout and summed up the atmosphere by saying, “there’s a lot of sh*t that goes down here.”