Carrie Gephart waited for her 7-year-old son to emerge from a quiet Hunter Elementary in Raleigh, just like any other weekday afternoon. But something felt different about Monday.
On the first day of funerals for the tiny victims of Fridays mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., parents everywhere had heavy hearts and uneasy feelings as they watched their kids board school buses. In the Triangle, school officials sent out messages, counselors opened their doors and uniformed officers showed up at schools unsolicited to calm nerves.
Its hard, said Gephart. Its pretty terrible. Its hard to put into words. I actually feel safe at this school, but its the uncertainty of everything.
On Friday, as investigators in Connecticut processed a horrific crime scene, Gepharts two children one at Hunter and one at Ligon Middle School were on Code Yellow lockdowns after gunshots were reported in that part of Southeast Raleigh. The lockdown ended without incident, but not before Gepharts second-grade son, Tobin, was barred from recess and at one point was told to crouch down in the classroom.
On Monday, Stephen Gainey, interim superintendent of Wake County schools, said the system got necessary information to the districts 169 schools about how to respond to parents and to counsel students in the wake of the Connecticut tragedy. But there was no effort to draw too much attention to school violence.
I drove in today hoping we could have as normal a day as possible for kids, Gainey said at a briefing with the media Monday.
He said the district heard from parents about policies on locking doors. The district has a security plan, Gainey said, and each school has its own plan based on building layout and other factors.
At Sandy Hook, the Newtown school where Fridays shooting occurred, new safety procedures had been implemented by the principal, who lost her life. The gunman blasted through a locked door to gain entry to the school.
In Wake County, locking procedures vary by school. The rules attempt to balance access and security, Gainey said.
The Wake system didnt ask for stepped up patrols Monday, but law enforcement showed up anyway. Extra officers were visible at schools across the Triangle.
Heritage Elementary Schools PTA posted a thank you to Wake Forest police on Facebook.
Some of you may have seen the detective who was out at carpool and the two officers who came by HES later in the day, the post said. Without being asked or called, WFPD decided to stop by local elementary schools to send some goodwill and comfort our way. And to let our staff and teachers know they are always, ALWAYS just a phone call away if they are ever needed.
Jim Sughrue, Raleigh Police Department spokesman, said officers were asked to be a little more visible at schools on their beats. We felt like a presence around the schools would be both beneficial and reassuring, he said.
Principals and administrators were visible, too. In Durham, top administrators made the rounds at schools. Superintendent Eric Becoats made a robocall to parents Sunday.
Safety is our top priority, he said. Please reassure your children that we all work together to keep our schools safe and secure for them.
Counselors were available at Triangle schools to help children and staff process the news and deal with their fears.
Its all about kids, but dont discount there are some staff members out there that are very nervous today, too, Gainey said Monday. We have to respect that too.
Gephart, the Hunter Elementary parent, was reassured Friday that the school took every precaution by activating the lockdown. Later, at home, the family talked about what had happened in Connecticut. Her second-grader was perhaps wise beyond his years, Gephart said.
He said, Some people are sick, Mom.
Staff writer Stacy Chandler contributed to this report.