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School, police stand-off against threats; District-wide active shooter training launches at RISD schools

Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder stands before the Roswell Independent School District board meeting Tuesday evening to inform the board of the active shooter training that has been implemented at RISD schools. University High School had their training today, Goddard High School will be Thursday, and all of the other schools will follow suit during this semester. (Alison Penn Photo)

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A school board meeting welcoming the voices of first responders has gone to show a sense of unity between local law enforcement agencies against a common, national threat.

The Roswell Independent School District’s board meeting Tuesday evening provided a response to the many violent threats received at its middle and high schools.

While a member of the Roswell Police Department and New Mexico State Police were present, only Britt Snyder and Daniel Ornelas of the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office spoke before members of the board.

Chaves County Sheriff Britt Snyder said the amount of threats Roswell schools have experienced in the past month has been tremendous.

“Without the Roswell Police Department, you wouldn’t be where we are now,” Snyder said. “I think you realize that. They have three current school resource officers that we’ve had for a couple of years and that is a tremendous asset to you, especially Roswell High and Goddard High.”

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Snyder said if he could get four more positions at the sheriff’s office, he would create two additional school resource officers and have them set at RISD middle schools.

“We’ll be working together even better amongst ourselves and the Roswell Police Department, because those cooperative ventures just have beared tremendous fruit,” Snyder said in a later interview with the Daily Record. “Our drug task force is doing a great job, and it’s six Roswell Police officers, and two of my deputies, and that is — they have done great things — we can do that with our school resource officers too.”

Snyder said the presence of the sheriff’s office, along with the Roswell Police Department, New Mexico State Police and the Roswell Fire Department at the meeting was to reassure school officials first responders are willing to help.

“We know you’re getting these threats,” he explained. “And we’re not going to leave any rock unturned if we can figure out who’s doing it, because school safety is paramount to us.

“We are here for you. You can’t do your job unless you feel safe, so please know — from all of us — we are here to help you in any way we can. You have 10,000 students. We want to help you any way we can.”

The Chaves County Sheriff said the many school shooting scares are not unique to Roswell.

“That’s the same thing going on all over the country,” Snyder said. “It’s scary.

“We need to educate our kids to please tell us before something happens. Most of these shootings that do occur — there was information out there that didn’t get to the right people and didn’t get looked at the way it should have.”

Snyder said, from a security standpoint, the best thing RISD and law enforcement have been doing is holding monthly security meetings, facilitated by Brian Byrd, assistant superintendent of Human Resources.

Chris Thweatt, RISD support services manager, said the district has been working with local law enforcement on the school safety plan for active shooter incidents as well preparing for safety of the students and staff during other disasters.

Thweatt gave a presentation about the school safety plan at the end of the meeting.

Snyder said in terms of security, Goddard and Roswell High could be improved, and until improvements are made, those schools remain vulnerable.

The sheriff also pointed out how school administrators are not armed.

“Yes, the cavalry is coming, but what’s gonna happen in the three to five minutes before we get there?” He said. “I’m all in favor of — I wish we had school administrators armed in every building. I really do. And yes, we’re coming, but they’re on their own for — until we get there, and these shootings only last three to five minutes.

“Right now, it’s a felony to bring a firearm into a school. That’s a problem.”

Snyder said he would also support the school district if they chose to arm security officers.

“And we would help with that in any way that we could.”

Lt. Daniel Ornelas from the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office said the active shooter training has taken time to implement since former lieutenant Mike Herrington retired this past summer.

“It has taken some time to get that training going, but it all depends on FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers),” Ornelas said. “We did go to the school we are training our deputies and entering the building, the different scenarios that they are going to face upon entering the schools.”

Ornelas said the training would prepare trainees for any armed intruders.

New Mexico State Police Capt. Lance Bateman, who gave a presentation at University High School Tuesday, said lessons on how to handle an active shooter are already being extended to RISD staff.

“I gave them some ideas and what to expect from law enforcement, but we’ll keep doing a coordinated effort with the sheriff’s department and the city police and any threats that come up,” Bateman said. “We’ll definitely work with them and try to solve the issue and catch whoever’s making these threats before a tragedy occurs.”

Bateman said, across the agencies, law enforcement will be instilling the same level of active shooter training at RISD.

“I’ve been requested to do two of the middle schools, and University High School, which we did today with some teachers,” he said. “I’m sure the sheriff’s department’s going to do some other schools in the city also. (There’s) a lot of schools here, and with the resources each agency has, all of us have to do our part — that’s why we have to work together and count on the other people.”

The sheriff said the cooperative relationship between the law enforcement agencies is the best he has ever seen.

“I’m in year 29 at the Chaves County Sheriff’s Office. The relationships that we’ve managed to establish have never been this good, so I’m really proud that I had some little hand at trying to accomplish that,” he said. “My agency and the State Police specifically are more than willing to put on the active shooter training for anybody that wants it. That is something we’re certainly committed to continuing because that preventive — that simple training can make a huge difference in how bad any shooting might be.

Snyder ended with a solemn reference, noting an instance where at least 20 college students were killed in a classroom. The sheriff said students need to be given the permission to fight back.

“These are college kids,” Snyder said. “Nobody ever told those kids they could fight back — so they sat there are waited their turn — to get shot. ‘Cause nobody told them different. We can’t do that.”

Board member Ruben Sanchez thanked the officers for coming and shared that he and interim superintendent Susan Sanchez have had conversations about the many threats of violence and what can be done.

Ruben Sanchez said training in the past has been focused on keeping shooters out, but the change now is, the threats are coming from inside the schools.

“As we all know, everybody in that building is the first line of defense when these things happen,” Ruben Sanchez said “That first 20 seconds, 30 seconds — that first five minutes — whatever those teachers, and those kids, and those employees in that building do really matter as far as who lives, who dies, who gets hurt (and) who doesn’t.

“So, one thing that I would ask if we can please ensure that our teachers are trained when it comes to the active shooter scenario — not only keeping that threat out, but now what do we do when that threat is your classroom.”

Susan Sanchez thanked members of law enforcement for their partnership with RISD.

“The collaboration we have on a regular basis with all the local enforcement agencies have been amazing and incredible,” Sanchez said. “Their response time has been seconds, minutes, by the time they get there. So again on behalf of the district, I want to say again just publicly, thank you for every one of you and your department and your people with your agency that has been here to support us during all of these threats of violence. We certainly couldn’t do it without you.”

Multimedia-Crime reporter Trevier Gonzalez can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

City reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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