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April 8, 2015

How one elementary school recovered from a shooting

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Four years later, an elementary school in San Diego, CA is still grappling with the effects of a shooting that rocked the community.

On Oct. 8, 2010, 41-year-old Brendan O’Rourke brought a .357 Magnum revolver, a gasoline can and a propane tank to Kelly Elementary School. O’Rourke shot six rounds into the playground where children were playing before running out of ammunition. Two children were caught in the gunfire, but no one was killed.

As O’Rourke headed to his car to reload, three construction workers who had witnessed the shooting tackled him to the ground. The school went into lockdown while parents gathered at a nearby park and police determined there was not another gunman on campus.

During that lockdown, kindergarten teacher Peggy Parish stayed in a bathroom with 15 students and three classroom helpers for 45 minutes. Since then, she has worked hard to help students recover from the experience.

“I want them to know that school is safe and that there are people, way more people who are good people in the world than people who might try to hurt them,” she said.

The school re-opened on Monday, three days after the shooting. “We decided that we really needed to celebrate a miracle, and not let this incident destroy us, but help us come together,” said Principal Tressie Armstrong.

Some students transferred to other schools following the shooting, but most remained at Kelly Elementary School.  The incident brought the community closer together, former student Kayla Lehman said. “I thought it was cool that, even after that, that I could come become and feel safe,” she said.

This story is a part of the Student Reporting Labs’ series “The New Safe.” See more stories by youth reporters on school safety in their community.


Warm up questions
  1. What is a lockdown drill, and when do schools use them?
  2. How often does your school practice safety drills? What kinds?
Critical thinking questions
  1. How did this event affect the students in the community? What about the teachers? How did they play a role in supporting each other following the shooting?
  2. How can communities take steps to recover from traumatic events?
  3. What are your school’s safety plans? Have they been reviewed by students? How can student input help the community prepare?
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