LABELLE — Hendry County Sheriff Steve Whidden explained the requirements for volunteers in the Guardian Program after having those in attendance at the School Safety Forum, April 9 at LaBelle High School, envision a hypothetical school shooting.
“The Parkland shooting scared the hell out of me,” Sheriff Whidden said. He said he realizes that if someone does their homework, they can enter a school. “The first person a shooter will kill is the deputy,” said Mr. Whidden. “What happens then?”
The sheriff told citizens attending the forum to “stop and think about the situation.
“The shooter is walking through the halls with an AK-47, a 12-gauge (shotgun), or a pistol, and shooting one child at a time,” Sheriff Whidden said. “9-1-1 calls are being made and going to the dispatch. And, we have to wait for a road response. In any county in the state, or the country, a three-minute response time is really fast.”
Sheriff Whidden said that the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland killed 17 people and left the campus in under three minutes. “The only reason he only killed 17 people is because his weapon jammed,” he said.
Sheriff Whidden “agrees 100 percent with hardening our schools,” he said, plus having metal detectors and bulletproof glass, “but, it isn’t a foolproof plan.” He said someone is going to figure out how to get into the schools.
“When a shooter is standing in our cafeteria at 10 or 11 a.m. with a firearm, what then?” he asked rhetorically. “We don’t know where the School Resource Officer is going to be on campus. We need someone there who will be able to engage and act quickly when minutes and seconds count,” the sheriff said.
Volunteers will have to be of a certain type of mind-set that fits what they may have to do. “Volunteers in the Guardian Program may have to kill another child if that child comes in to murder other children,” said Sheriff Whidden.
He explained the requirements volunteers in the Guardian Program will have to meet and the training they will undergo. “Volunteers will have recurring psychological testing, polygraphs, background and drug screens,” he said. “They will have 132 hours of active shooter training, 12 hours’ additional training, will have to shoot 1,300-1,500 rounds and pass with 85 percent accuracy.”
Sheriff Whidden said the volunteers will have more training than the deputies who are already on the school campus. “There is nothing special about a deputy other than the training. I’m going to be 100 percent confident that volunteers are proficient in what they are doing and that they are safe,” he said.
The number of volunteers will be unknown, and the weapon will be carried concealed on an undershirt with a “totally enclosed, secure pocket that cannot come out unless they physically remove it themselves,” he said. The gun will not be fully cocked and loaded.
“If someone comes into our school tomorrow and kills the deputy, if the deputy calls in sick, or is on the opposite end of the campus, how do you stop him?” Mr. Whidden asked. “I can enact a plan that will keep your children safe if a school shooter was to come on campus,” he said.
“When a shooter comes in, he is going to have a big, mean gun and will do a lot of damage,” Sheriff Whidden said.