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Fear Grips Local Communities in Wake of Newtown Shooting

Random and disturbing threats in the Chicago area followed the Newtown school killings, underscoring vulnerabilities and prompting discussions of gun control and guns for teachers.

The first day of school after the Sandy Hook school massacre brought a wave of fear, worry and outright threats to some Chicago-area communities as educators and police sought to reassure people that efforts to protect their children would be redoubled.

Parents and educators everywhere were talking about school security even as incidents locally in the last three days underscored potential vulnerability. Here's a glimpse of what's taken place in the past few days.

Local Safety Procudures 

Lemont Mayor Brian K. Reaves and Chief of Police Kevin Shaughnessy issued a statement Monday, assuring the community that safeguards are in place to "protect and prevent acts of school violence."

"The Village of Lemont and the Lemont Police Department work very closely with each school to provide the most current methods of school security and safety precautions. We have a regular presence in school buildings through our high school resource officer and our elementary school drug education officer," the statement read.

Officials also encouraged residents who own firearms to "keep them safely away from unauthorized use."

"If you have a family member who suffers from mental illness or displays symptoms of erratic or bizarre behavior, seek care or treatment for them. If you have any guns in your house, remove them immediately. The LPD will assist you in securing your guns until such time as you can transfer them to another. We will destroy any guns at your request. This offer extends to any member of the community who feels uncomfortable with guns in your home."

In a letter sent home to parents Sunday evening, Susan Birkenmaier, superintendent of Lemont-Bromberek Combined School District 113A, assured parents that the district continues to be vigilant in its school safety efforts.

"Police vehicles will be present as District 113A schools focus on responding to student concerns and enforcing safety procedures – and psychologists and social workers will be on hand for students throughout the week," Birkenmaier said.

The superintendent added that psychologists and social workers would be available for "any students who need assistance in processing this tragic event through the coming week."

In nearby Woodridge, Police Chief Ken Boehm said the department felt it was important to provide additional police visibility around the schools to hopefully alleviate some concerns following the shooting.

As for preparedness with these types of incidents, "we are consistently reviewing, updating policies and providing training not only to our officers but school officials," he told Patch. "We have a great relationship with our schools and work closely with their staff to ensure we both are doing everything we can to help ensure the safety of the children and staff."

Darien Police Chief Ernest Brown said he coincidentally met with all three superintendents in town last week before the tragedy to be certain that safety plans are up-to-date.

Darien city and school officials covered procedures for disaster preparedness events such as hostage takings and shootings. Brown said a similar training was held for staff at Indian Prairie Public Library earlier this year. Click here to read what Lace Principal Marty Casey had to say about safety procedures at his school.

In Downers Grove, parents discovered that schoolhouse doors were unlocked and flooded the district with calls. The school district decided to lock the doors this week and install temporary buzzers. Administrators will consider installing an advanced system. A buzzer and badge system is already in place at Glen Ellyn schools.

In Oak Lawn, police reviewed security procedures at public schools and parochial schools, and school officials were looking at the entry and exit doors to see what more could be done to prevent an intruder from entering the buildings.

Elmhurst saw an increased police presence at schools, with . At York High School, entry and exit will be restricted to two doorways. And any student who opens a door for anyone will face disciplinary action, administrators told Patch.

In Clarendon Hills, rumors of a "kill list" brought to school by a middle school student prompted an investigation.

Arrests and Threats

A trio of threats in the south suburbs underscored the raw nerves felt by many parents, with a police manhunt, a threat to shoot school children and another threat to kill school administrators.

Fears heightened Tuesday afternoon in the Tinley Park area as . Schools in Tinley Park and Oak Forest went on lockdown during the search, and schools in nearby Frankfort and Mokena went on soft lockdown, keeping the children inside during recess. Police officers were at the schools when classes ended for the day.

An arrest warrant was issued Tuesday for a former Lincoln-Way High School teacher accused of telephoning his former bosses in New Lenox earlier this month and threatening to kill them. Ryan Gardner, 40, checked himself into a mental health ward at a Chicago hospital, however, he could have checked himself out at any time. He faces felony charges.

The arrest warrant was forwarded to the police department at University of Illinois Hospital, said Will County State's Attorney James Glasgow. When he is released from care, he will be taken to jail. Glasgow said the mass murder in Newtown, CT, made this case more urgent for him.

"In light of what happened in Connecticut, we have to be at a heightened level," he said.

Meanwhile, in Palos Hills, a man arrested on DUI charges early Monday morning . Police went to 31-year-old Michael Lynch's Palos Hills home and confiscated his firearms and ammunition.

The governor said the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois State Police, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency, and other state agencies will review school safety programs throughout the state.

More Guns or Gun Control?

Talk of increased security at schools also includes suggestions to arm teachers and others who work in the hallways. Richard Pearson, executive director of the Illinois State Rifle Association, said schools should hire armed security guards and give teachers guns and weapons training.

"Somebody has to be there that can stop (an attacker) at that moment," Pearson said.

However, several lawmakers have changed their positions on gun control measures. And others, including the mayor of Chicago, say now is a crucial moment for our nation to enact a ban on automatic weapons.

The president said Wednesday he will deliver to Congress an expansive set of gun control laws to consider in January.

Edward Andrysiak December 20, 2012 at 10:10 PM
Do not be lulled into a false sense of security. All your local police do is RESPOND. Most of their efforts are set up to reduce response time. What we really need is trained proficient armed individuals in the schools, be they teachers or community folks stepping up to give time to protect the kids. What the first responders do is critical and your police and fire people are usually not the first. It's the people on the scene who are first and foremost in importantce.Training is very important and each scholl should have training sessions in real time senerios so those in "guard mode" have a plan. CCW is important and those carriers should be trained in live "what if" senerios. Schools should review how a bad guy might get in. I see locked front doors but a lot of other ways in. We are far from safe! This takes organization, training and a lot of CCW people giving their time to protect the schools...and yes, even your churches. Schools are no safer today that they were a month ago. It's not the guns we fear...it's the nuts!
Mary Van December 21, 2012 at 12:28 AM
For many years, since the horrific events at Columbine, the public schools started working with local police departments in exactly what you explain in your post. In talking with some Lemont teachers, they practice the "real time scenarios" every year, with a selected individual, not known to them, to be the bad guy. Many scenarios have been practiced. Before I retired, I was able to practice with one intruder drill. The teachers at Sandy Hook were obviously trained, and trained well, or many more children would have been killed. . I agree with your statements about guns.......if people are going to kill, they will find a way. The 9/11 terrorists killed with planes, Tim McVeigh killed with a bomb. I wish there were better punishments for those who illegally use guns, like Lanza did, they were not his guns. Thank you to all who protect our children....thank you to local police who train our teachers so well.
Edward Andrysiak December 28, 2012 at 11:03 PM
Mary....respectfully let me say you are a dreamer. The teachers at Sandy Hook were shot down with no resistance. There was no plan and obviously no training. At least not the kind of training I see as being necessary these days. People need to get a grip! These are serious attacks against innocent kids. If we don't protect them who will. You say public schools have drills...what about the catholic schools and other private schools? Without trained, armed people on site full time with the kids...they simply are not safe. If you think otherwise you are fooling yourself. Your post tends to be reassuring...don't kid your self and the commuinity...we are far from safe.

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