It’s been nearly six years since 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff died after being shot 10 times in her English class at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida.
She perished along with 13 other students and three school staff members during the rampage on Valentine’s Day in 2018. Seventeen others were injured.
“I just miss my daughter Alyssa so much and I wish that she was here,” the girl’s mother, Lori Alhadeff, told members of the Utah Legislature’s House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee this past week.
Alhadeff and Max Schachter, whose teenage son, Alex, also died during the siege, addressed the committee remotely to support HB84, school safety legislation sponsored by Rep. Ryan Wilcox, R-Ogden.
The legislation would establish a “guardian program.” In the absence of a school resource officer, or SRO, or security guard, a school employee could volunteer to be an armed guard to respond during an emergency.
The guardians would train twice a year inside of the school, and the county sheriff would oversee their duties, Wilcox said. Guardians would undergo mental health evaluations and de-escalation training. Their training would also include firearms proficiency.
“Guardians are basically force multipliers. An SRO cannot be everywhere at all times. Around the country in some of our rural communities, law enforcement could be 10 or 20 minutes away,” said Schachter.
“The most important thing when an active shooter comes on your campus and an individual’s intent on killing your son or your daughter, the most important thing is, No. 1, stopping the killing and and then, stopping the dying. That’s why I certainly support this bill and the guardian feature that you have in there,” he said.
Time is of the essence during a mass casualty event, he said, explaining that his son, Alyssa Alhadeff “and 15 others were murdered in just under four minutes, and 17 were injured. Our mission in life is to prevent what happened to us from happening to another family.”
One locally elected school board member urged lawmakers to amend the legislation to “eliminate the armed guardian section of the bill and add more funding for SROs,” said Teri McCabe, a member of the Provo School District Board of Education.
Martín Carlos Muñoz, representing the child advocacy organization Voices for Utah Children, also voiced concern about the guardian program and urged the committee to refer the bill to interim study.
Meanwhile, Clark Aposhian, chairman of the Utah Shooting Sports Council, endorsed the legislation, thanking Wilcox for working for months with diverse stakeholders to craft a “very comprehensive bill.
“We believe that this legislation is likely to be a template for other states to adopt to protect the students, the staff and the faculty. Really, the only reason to pass this bill is if we’re serious about protecting our kids,” he said.
HB84 would also establish minimum safety procedures for schools, such as panic buttons, better communication systems, and require reporting by state employees and others if they become aware of threats to schools.
It also establishes duties of the state security chief and requires them to develop training for school resource officers. It also calls for some reporting from the SafeUT Crisis Line to the state’s intelligence databases, and requires certain school safety data to be included in the state’s annual school disciplinary report.
Wilcox said after intensive study of the response to school shootings across the county, “The message that we want to send here is that this isn’t OK here. We’re not going to wait and act later. If somebody decides to attack one of our schools, they will be met with resistance. They won’t know what that looks like but we’re not going to sit and wait for someone to do this here.”
The committee voted unanimously to send HB84 to the House for further consideration.