Police respond to two student threats in a week

Enos Garcia Elementary parents call for alert system after threat


When Teresa Martinez's child got off the bus from Enos Garcia Elementary school last week, she could tell something was wrong. Something was on her child's mind. Eventually, she was able to piece together that a threat had been made at school that day. It had something to do with a gun.

The uncertainty around the information was, simply put, alarming.

Some of Martinez's extended family are from Aztec, where a shooting at that community's high school in December left two students dead and shook the small town.

Martinez is now among a group of parents of Enos Garcia Elementary students who are calling on the school to quickly improve their notification system, so word of threats or emergency situations don't reach their ears through their children or frantic Facebook posts.

On Tuesday (Feb. 13), an elementary school student made a hand gesture in the shape of a gun, pointing at a teacher, according to an interview with Taos Police Chief David Trujillo.

The school had another incident of a student threatening a teacher Wednesday (Feb. 21), according to Trujillo. Police responded to the school, but no further details were available as of press time.

In the Feb. 13 incident, the student did not have a weapon, according to Trujillo, who called the incident "minor."

Only the parents of the student who made the threat were immediately notified by school officials, according to Enos Garcia Principal Gladys Herrera Gurule. The school reported the incident to law enforcement the following morning, but most parents never got a call from the school.

While school officials said they followed the correct protocols and alerted the right people, Martinez and some other parents aren't convinced that's enough in an age of increased school shootings.

The incident sparked worry among some parents on social media, especially because information about the Enos Garcia situation came on the heels of a fatal school shooting in Florida last Wednesday (Feb. 14) that claimed the lives of 17 people. And even closer to home, there was a Jan. 31 incident in the Enos Garcia annex involving a high school student discharged an airsoft gun, hitting at least one person on his wrestling team and possibly two other students.

Martinez tried to call Enos Garcia Elementary administrators, she said, but kept getting "here-and-there answers."

Parents were "still nervous and unsettled," she said, so Martinez called a meeting Friday (Feb. 16) with the principal to discuss the Feb. 13 incident, the lack of parent notification and solutions for improving responses in the future. Around 15 people attended the meeting to discuss the policies and procedures in place and to get more information on the incident.

"Parents still haven't seen a notification," Martinez said during the Friday meeting, asking the principal, "Is this not considered an emergency?"

Herrera Gurule said it "has not been the practice in this school" to do a mass notification to parents for such an incident.

But Miriam Jones, another Enos Garcia parent, couldn't shake the "unsettling" feeling she got from hearing the information secondhand.

"I know there is a form of mass communication. I get calls weekly" about school delays, early dismissals and special notifications, she said.

In an ideal world, the school would have called her before her child ever got off the bus. "If our kid came home upset or distressed, we'd know how to deal with it," Jones said. After last week's threat, "we didn't know the questions to ask."

Enos Garcia Elementary did send a letter home with students Tuesday (Feb. 20), alerting parents to the Feb. 13 incident, according to Jones.

Taos Municipal Schools Superintendent Lillian Torrez said each school has its own safety plan in the event of emergencies, threats and other situations. Each incident is handled on a case-by-case basis, Torrez said.

According to Torrez, an incident involving a gun, or threat of a gun, would result in an immediate lockdown of the school and police would be notified on the spot. Torres did not share or further discuss elements of the school's safety plans, saying that plans could be used against the school by a potential shooter or other threatening person.

However, Herrera Gurule said developing better notification procedures, as well as better safety protocols in general, are on the agenda for a safety committee of parents, teachers and administrators.

Jones thanked the school for its efforts in a Wednesday (Feb. 21) phone call with The Taos News.

Even this week, other schools in New Mexico have taken faster steps to alert parents of threats of potential shootings.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, after a shooting threat was posted on social media Tuesday (Feb. 20), Rio Rancho Public Schools Superintendent V. Sue Cleveland sent a mass message to students, community members, parents and staff thanking them for sharing the message and alerting everyone to the issue. Although Rio Rancho police found no weapons, some school districts are employing mass alert or notification systems in their communities.

Beyond parent concerns, Tuesday's incident also raised questions about the amount of time it took the school to alert law enforcement. "We need to have these reports immediately," Trujillo said. "The sooner we get them, the less gossip and hearsay there will be."

Taos Police have a school resource officer who covers seven schools in the area. According to Trujillo, the resource officer's duties are to enforce the laws of the State of New Mexico, not the policies or rules of the schools. In addition, this resource officer may assist schools in lockdown, active shooter and other training drills.

The school resource officer was called to Taos High School to interview students involved in the Jan. 31 airsoft pistol incident at the Enos Garcia annex five days after it occurred. The wrestler who admitted to bringing the airsoft pistol and discharging it at another student was suspended.

Reporter John Miller contributed to this story.