"On this day though, the sounds of people walking and talking in the hall were interrupted by five loud popping sounds directly outside my classroom. To me, it sounded like balloons popping. It was not balloons. Either Mr. Nelson saw what was happening or was familiar with the sound of gunfire and immediately closed the door and put a rolling cart with a TV in front of the door. Although I remember the pops, I don't recall hearing any screams. While we had no idea what was happening or happened outside the classroom, Mr. Nelson made sure that we didn’t go near the door. Although my memory about this event 20 years ago is a little fuzzy, I believe that he called the front office to let them know that he heard what could have been gunfire. My guess is that he knew what was going on but didn’t want to alarm us too much." - from the blog "Sean's Ramblings," about a shooting at Woodland Hills High School in 1992
Seven years before Columbine—20 years before Sandy Hook—Woodland Hills High School experienced a shooting within its halls.
On Sept. 21, 1992, a 15-year-old sophomore from Swissvale brought a gun to into school and fired four shots into a crowded second-floor hallway as classes changed at 8:17 a.m. One bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit a 17-year-old senior from Wilkins Township in the right shoulder. The senior, who was not the target of the shooting, was not seriously injured.
Allegheny County and Churchill police said at the time the 15-year-old suspect brought the gun to school to settle an out-of-school argument with another sophomore. The incident ushered in the use of metal detectors and security guards at the high school, and by fall 1994 had trickled down to the school's two junior highs.
Passing through metal detectors—and having bookbags and purses searched—has been a long-standing routine as students enter the schools each morning. Parents and visitors also have to pass through the same security measures.
Woodland Hills' high school and junior high have one of the most "stringent" security programs that Substitute Superintendent Alan Johnson has seen during his career in education. That includes armed police officers at both buildings.
"Now the challenge is to look comprehensively at our other buildings," he said. "The lesson of Sandy Hook was the small schools. The elementary schools are not immune from this thing. We have to think with all school levels the way we thought at high schools."
In reviewing the schools in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in December that killed 20 students and six educators, Johnson said some potential problem areas were found that the district plans to address. He gave principals and security officials the task of doing a building-wide audit at each school to see what can be done to make security tighter.
One area for improvement is the entry systems. Woodland Hills' elementary schools all have a remote entry with a camera, where an office staff member has to "buzz in" visitors.
But with the exception of Shaffer School in Churchill, where visitors enter right to the office area, the other schools have a distance between the front door and the office. That's something Johnson said the district will be looking at addressing.
The district has created a procedure for dealing with parcels coming into the schools. Fortunately, the district doesn't have any large, low-level windows that would provide entry for an intruder, Johnson said.
"We really have made some changes," he said. "I'm pretty proud of what Woodland Hills has in place. Woodland Hills had done a pretty good job of protecting its kids and its grounds."
To read more of the blog about the day of the 1992 shooting, click here.
To read about the retired Woodland Hills teacher who has invented a device that might help in school shooting situations, click here.