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The Journal Gazette

  • File Police investigate a fatal shooting April 9 near Lake Avenue and North Anthony Boulevard, just a few blocks from Lakeside Middle School.

Sunday, July 21, 2019 1:00 am

Shootings near schools an issue?

Analysis: Few during inside academic day

ASHLEY SLOBODA | The Journal Gazette

Allen County's first homicide this year was a few blocks from Abbett Elementary School.

Subsequent shootings brought violence closer to Abbett, although like the first homicide, neither occurred during the school day.

In late February, the county's third 2019 homicide victim was found at Senate Avenue and Smith Street, an intersection bordering the school property. About a month later, shots were fired into a nearby Smith Street home, killing a 23-year-old – the county's fourth homicide victim this year.

Sandra Vohs, president of the Fort Wayne Education Association, considers such instances anomalies.

“I think, honestly, that teachers for the most part feel safe in their schools,” Vohs said.

Although it's likely that shootings in Fort Wayne are within a mile of a school, most are not in the immediate vicinity and rarely happen during the school day, a Journal Gazette analysis found.

Using the Fort Wayne Police Department's activity log, The Journal Gazette compiled every reported shooting during Fort Wayne Community Schools' 2018-19 academic year and used Google maps to determine which shootings were approximately within a mile, half-mile and quarter-mile of a school.

The Journal Gazette analyzed only calls coded as shootings, not those described as shots fired.

The analysis offers a general look at reported violence surrounding the city's schools although initial information from an emergency call might not reflect what police find, if anything, at the scene.

The police department did not immediately provide a list of confirmed shootings.

The online police activity logs show 91 shootings were reported from Aug. 14 to June 3, excluding cases where victims were walk-ins at hospitals. Eighty-two were reported within a mile of a school. Of the 61 within a half-mile of a school, 39 – or 43% of the total – were within a quarter-mile of a school.

Fifty of the reported shootings happened on a day FWCS was in session, but only 12 of those were between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. That time frame includes school hours and a buffer of about 20 minutes before and after the earliest and latest start and dismissal times.

About 40 schools – both public and private – were within a half-mile of at least one reported shooting.

Those near the most reported shootings were Weisser Park Elementary School (10, including five within a quarter-mile), Whitney Young Early Childhood Center (10, including two within a quarter-mile) and Abbett (eight, including seven within a quarter-mile).

Students' safety

FWCS considers community crime statistics when determining where to place in-school security guards, spokeswoman Krista Stockman said. Such guards could be off-duty police officers and are more likely to work in schools in areas with higher crime rates, she said.

FWCS does not publicize which schools have security officers because that would also identify which schools do not have assigned security officers, Stockman said.

While they aren't school resource officers, the security guards still serve as “another trusted adult in the building,” Stockman said. They primarily monitor the campus and are usually the first to know when a lockout is needed.

City police alert schools whenever a suspect at large is nearby, said Sgt. Sofia Rosales-Scatena, public information officer for the police department.

Lockouts are called at FWCS when a threat or hazard exists outside the school. Procedures include ensuring all doors and windows are secured and restricting further entry until the all clear is given.

Lockdowns happen when the threat is inside the school. In instances of an armed intruder, students and staff are told to use avoid, deny, defend strategies. When it isn't safe to evacuate, students and staff should secure and barricade themselves in the nearest room and be prepared to defend themselves.

FWCS had 64 lockouts or lockdowns at 29 schools in 2018-19. Most – if not all – were lockouts, Stockman said. She noted schools don't necessarily announce they are under a lockout.

“They're usually very short-lived,” Stockman said.

That was not the case in late May at Bunche Montessori Early Childhood Center, which was blocks away from police activity involving a suspect in the May 30 homicide of a 20-year-old woman found at Chapel Oaks Apartments.

The suspect was arrested May 31 after a standoff with police in the 1400 block of Greene Street – blocks away from Bunche, 1111 Greene St.

The lockout kept Bunche's 3-year-old students in the building “all day,” Stockman said, noting they usually go home at 10:45 a.m.

Kelly Carlin, whose daughter was a kindergartner at Bunche last academic year, said the school district and police department do “a fantastic job at keeping the kids safe” and not alarming students when something is amiss.

Even so, Carlin said, the situation in May was concerning.

“That was the scariest for me just because that person had actually committed a murder, and it was right across the street,” she said.

'Safe haven' for students

Exposure to neighborhood violence is associated with lower test scores and increases in stress, depression and aggression, which can lead to disruptive classroom behavior, research has found.

Julia Burdick-Will, a Johns Hopkins University professor, cited such findings in her examination of neighborhood violence and its effect on academic achievement in Chicago.

Her study, published last year in the quarterly journal Sociology of Education, “shows that when students experience higher levels of neighborhood violence, the whole school reports feeling less safe, having more disciplinary problems and feeling less trust in their teachers.”

FWCS recognizes that neighborhood crime and violent activity can affect children who live in those areas and understands the importance of providing secure learning environments, Stockman said.

“School is really their safe haven,” she said, adding the district's therapeutic counselors can be a resource for students.

No 'location issue'

Neighborhood crime hasn't deterred parents from sending children to FWCS magnet schools Whitney Young and Bunche, Stockman said, adding the buildings have wait lists.

Magnet schools have no attendance boundaries.

Bunche was within a half mile of five reported shootings, including one within a quarter mile.

For Carlin, the good she heard about Bunche outweighed its location when she decided to enroll her daughter, she said.

“I don't think this is a location issue,” Carlin said. “Shootings can happen anywhere. As a parent, you're going to worry regardless of whether your child goes to Canterbury or your child goes to Bunche.”

Schools near shootings

The Fort Wayne Police Department's online activity logs show 91 shootings were reported between Aug. 14 and June 3, excluding cases where victims are walk-ins at hospitals. Of the 61 within a half mile of a school, 39 - or 43% of the total - were within a quarter mile of a school.

School Shootings within a half mile Shootings also within a quarter mile
Weisser Park Elementary School 10 5
Whitney Young Early Childhood Center 10 2
Abbett Elementary School 8 7
Bishop Luers High School 5 1
Bunche Montessori Early Childhood Center 5 1
Fairfield Elementary School 5 2
Levan Scott Academy 5 2
South Side High School 4 2
South Wayne Elementary School 4 3
Towles Intermediate School 4 2
Lutheran South Unity School 3 1
Timothy L. Johnson Academy 3 2
Adams Elementary School 2 2
Bloomingdale Elementary School 2 1
Brentwood Elementary School 2 1
Concordia Lutheran School 2 1
Forest Park Elementary School 2 0
Franke Park Elementary School 2 0
Haley Elementary School 2 2
Harrison Hill Elementary School 2 2
Most Precious Blood School 2 0
Queen of Angels Catholic School 2 0
Saint John The Baptist School 2 2
St. Paul's Lutheran School 2 0
Bishop Dwenger High School 1 1
Blackhawk Christian School 1 0
Blackhawk Middle School 1 0
Emmanuel St Michael Lutheran School 1 1
FWCS Career Academy 1 0
FWCS Career Academy Automotive Center 1 0
Irwin Elementary School 1 1
Lakeside Middle School 1 1
Memorial Park Middle School 1 0
North Side High School 1 0
Northwood Middle School 1 1
Peace Montessori School 1 0
Portage Middle School 1 0
Saint Jude Elementary School 1 0
Washington Elementary School 1 0

asloboda@jg.net