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MISSION - A tragic event occurring far too often in our nation are school shootings. It is a situation that can occur at our schools, workplaces and public areas that raises the question, “have you prepared for that ‘what if’ moment?”

Hidalgo County Senior Deputy and Lead Instructor, Rick Garcia was invited to Sharyland High School to inform parents at a ‘Surviving an Active Shooter’ meeting held Thursday, Nov. 14.

Sr. Deputy Garcia discussed safety and security measures at the meeting presenting a brief history of past U.S. school shootings and what to do in case of a crisis.

With the first question asked ‘What comes to mind when you hear an active shooter?’, responses from the parents were ‘Where is it?’ ‘Is it at a school?’ and ‘Are my children safe?’. Garcia then asked ‘What is the deadliest school incident to ever occur in the US?’. Again, parents responded with ‘Virginia Tech’, ‘Columbine’ and ‘Sandy Hook’ but none were quite right.

It was 1927s Bath School Massacre in Bath Township, Michigan when a school board member lost the school’s election plotting revenge on the city and school. The perpetrator, Andrew P. Kehoe murdered his wife the morning of and destroyed their farm then driving into the city and detonating the bombs he placed at the school a day before. A bolt-action rifle was also used in the massacre and killed 45 students and teachers along with himself detonating the 500 pounds worth of explosives carried in his truck.

Moving forward with the presentation, Garcia showed 1999s Columbine High School’s number of deaths and killers as well as the time it took for police to respond to the incident. Fifty fateful minutes was the amount of time it took for SWAT to finally arrive.

“After the Columbine High School, we changed,” Garcia said. “No more SWAT, we will never wait for SWAT again because it takes too long,” he said remembering the day he was dispatched.

Instead, law enforcement made changes to its tactics training and the amount of time spent in the police academy to better prepare for an active shooter situation.

“And it worked for another eight years until the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007,” Garcia said.

“We realized we made another horrible mistake again for two reasons. One: we didn’t predict it and couldn’t understand why this happened and two: shooters were getting better. They were becoming perfect.”

The shooter in the Virginia Tech incident had been planning the attack for a year, taking the lives of 32 students and faculty members as well as his own. It was the pivotal point in law enforcement that prompted big changes.

“After Virginia Tech, it was the biggest change in law enforcement because this is where the community stopped liking us,” Garcia said.

Changes in the way law enforcement looked and attacked including weapons were all advanced from here on.

The most recent school shooting previous to Thursdays, Nov. 14, Santa Clarita HS was unseen footage taken from a student’s cell phone of last year’s Stoneman Douglas HS that left parents in utter shock.

“How would you have handled that situation?” asked Garcia after showing the footage.

It is easier said than done when saying how one would’ve reacted given the situation, but it is in the moment of crisis that reaction needs to be quick, hence stressing the importance to train for that ‘what if’ moment.

“We have to learn from mistakes and do better,” Garcia said. “Everything in nature knows how to do three things: run, hide and fight.”

In case of an emergency one should always run away if possible. If escaping is not possible, always hide and shield yourself and turn off all lights, lock the doors and silence your phone. As a last resort, fighting together is the best chance to end the person doing badly.

Garcia also shared to always have a family plan in place using a “unification point”. It is a marked location or area to reunify for safety until help arrives.

As for local school districts like Sharyland HS, well-trained officers and cameras are in place but some parents want more.

“You guys want a police officer in each school? With metal detectors and all kinds of stuff?” Garcia asked the parents. “Then next time the city has a tax raise vote for it. I am not free. That police officer is not free. That metal detector is not free. So when it comes up and they say, ‘Hey, we’re going to raise taxes’ — OK. You want it, you’re going to pay for it. That’s just the way it is,” he said.

The presentation concluded on how to treat a gun wound when statistics of the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, showed that wounded victims had a 32% chance of surviving if only their wounds had been treated.

The use of a CAT tourniquet, quick clot and an emergency trauma dressing (a big bandage) works 97% of the time compared to improv equipment like a belt used as a tourniquet only working 6% of the time. Garcia also advises in case of treating a trauma injury to always aim high above the artery so the bleeding stops.

“Aim high or die,” he said. “In case that person does not make it, you will at least know you tried by saving them.”

Sr. Deputy Rick Garcia offers free ASAP (Active Shooter Awareness Program) training to the public and self-defense classes across Hidalgo so long as the community wants it. He has taught at several workplaces and school districts in training for that ‘what if’ moment.

He can be reached through via email at ricardo.garcia@hidalgoso.org