Santa Fe police chief shares lessons from school shooting with Victoria's first responders

Dozens of first responders listen to Walter Braun, the police chief of Santa Fe Independent School District, talk about responding to the school shooting at the Galveston County campus last year.

Less than a year after a school shooting at Santa Fe High School left eight students and two teachers dead, the school district’s police chief is sharing a message for other emergency responders: Recovery after a disaster is often more challenging that the initial response to the disaster itself.

Walter Braun, the chief of Santa Fe Independent School District, spoke to hundreds of Crossroads first responders, public health leaders and local officials Thursday at the Mid-Coast Hurricane and Disaster Recovery Conference. Braun and Rusty Norman, the school board’s president, opened on a somber note and shared the lessons they learned in the state’s deadliest school shooting, and how communities like Victoria can learn from their experience.

In May 2018, a then 17-year-old year entered Santa Fe High School and opened fire. The shooting killed 10 and wounded 13 more.

Like many in the community, Braun refuses to speak the shooter’s name.

“We all refuse to speak his name, so I’ll use a code name: turd,” Braun said, bringing a little levity to the difficult conversation.

In recent years, the No Notoriety movement urged officials and the media to refuse to use the names of mass shooters. The campaign has cited research that shows “notoriety and infamy is a well known motivating factor in rampage mass killings and violent copycat crimes,” according to the group’s website.

After the shooting, the school district and responders worked to re-open the school 11 days after the shooting. Braun said that educators and officials from other schools that have endured shootings have created a support network to share advice after such tragedies. One lesson shared by the educators from Columbine High School in Colorado, Braun said, was the importance of allowing students to return to school as soon as possible, so they can grieve and recover together.

Since the shooting, Norman has testified several times in Austin as state legislators consider statewide initiatives to make schools safer.

Braun and Norman’s advice was particularly pertinent for responders from Victoria and the smaller surrounding communities at Thursday’s conference. Santa Fe’s school district had limited resources, with just eight sworn officers in the police force on the day of the shooting, Braun said. There are about 5,000 students in the district compared to 14,000 in Victoria’s school district.

A specific piece of advice Braun repeatedly told first responders was to carry tourniquets with them at all times, which Braun requires all of his officers to carry in their duty belt. Braun credits a tourniquet with saving the life of Officer John Barnes, who was one of the first two officers to rush directly toward the shooter. Barnes was hit by a bullet, and described his blood loss as “shooting out of me like a movie scene – like something from Quentin Tarantino,” according to the Houston Chronicle. Another officer put a tourniquet on Barnes’ arm, which Braun credits with saving the officer’s life.

In Santa Fe, school employees and first responders faced emotional challenges on the day of the shooting because almost everyone knows someone who was impacted, Braun said. One mom, a bus driver for the school district, was busy transporting kids from the school to the area where parents were reuniting with their children, only to later find out that her daughter was among those slain. He urged smaller communities to make sure that pre-existing relationships with nearby agencies could be activated in event of emergency, so that a smaller community could have outside support if needed

Panels and speeches covering a range of different disaster followed Braun and Norman’s keynote address, with sessions on hurricanes, floods, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s public assistance program, and more.

Victoria’s emergency management coordinator Rick McBrayer said he wanted to bring Braun to address the Crossroads’ community after hearing him address the “totality” of a disaster: from the initial crisis and though recovery.

“That’s why we wanted to bring this presentation here, so that some of our partners in the room with us today can hear that and say we understand that response is always going to be response,” McBrayer said. “But what about long term recovery?”

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597 or on Twitter at @mccarthy_ciara.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers local government for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can contact her by emailing cmccarthy@vicad.com.

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