Riverhead, North Fork school officials react to Connecticut shootings

GOOGLE MAPS | Reports indicate 27 people were killed at a school shooting in Newtown, Conn. School officials from across the North Fork have expressed their sympathies.

North Fork school officials are offering additional counseling services to help students and parents cope with today’s school shooting where 27 people were killed — including 20 children and the gunman— at an elementary school in Connecticut.

According to the Associated Press, a law enforcement official said the attacker in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, had ties to the school and that a gun used in the attacks was a .223-caliber rifle. The school is located in Newtown, Conn. — about 60 miles northeast of New York City. His mother who worked at the school, Nancy Lanza, was reportedly the 28th victim found shot to death in her home.

Riverhead School District superintendent Nancy Carney said counseling will be available to help students and staff in the schools next week.

“There are no words to adequately describe the feelings of grief, sympathy, and sadness that I am feeling for the students, parents and educators of Sandy Hook Elementary School and Newtown, Connecticut,” Ms. Carney wrote in an email. “On behalf of everyone at the Riverhead Central School District, our hearts go out to them.”

Ms. Carney said the district is vigilant in reviewing its safety policies on a continuous basis and will “use whatever can be learned from this national tragedy to make further adjustments to our practices.”

Dick Malone, superintendent of the Oysterponds elementary school in Orient, said district psychologist Dan Goldfarb is being made available to speak with children’s parents as they struggle to grapple with what happened so close to home.

“Sometimes parents need help with advice and direction in how to handle this,” Mr. Malone said.

As for any safety concerns, Mr. Malone added the school has a new security system in place, which involves locking the facility after the school day starts and requiring all visitors to go through a video monitoring system at the front door.

Shoreham-Wading River school superintendent Steven Cohen described today’s shooting as “extremely disturbing,” and said the district has counselors in each building and is prepared to shift some of them from the high school and middle school over to the elementary school if needed.

Mattituck-Cutchogue school superintendent James McKenna said he first learned about the Connecticut school shooting after visiting a student at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead who was injured during a bus accident on Main Road in Aquebogue earlier this morning.

“My head just spins with why or how could something like this happen,” Mr. McKenna said Friday afternoon.

When asked, Mr. McKenna said today’s tragedy doesn’t compare to a 2009 shooting at Mattituck High School where a single bullet — allegedly fired from a .22-caliber rifle by a man living near the school — buzzed through an open classroom window and inexplicably slowed down enough not to severely hurt a female student, whose head was struck by the projectile.

The victim suffered only minor injuries from the bullet fragments.

“The incident that day was an unfortunate one,” he said. “That was a freak accident, but it makes you realize that anything can happen at any place at any time.”

Today’s event in Connecticut is the second-deadliest school shooting in the nation’s history since the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg, Va., in which a gunman killed 32 people and then himself.

Greenport school officials just held a public presentation last Thursday called “Rachel’s Challenge,” a national anti-bullying program that is based on the writings of 17-year-old Rachel Scott, the first student killed during the 1999 Columbine High School shooting massacre in Littleton, Colo., which left a total of 15 people dead, including 12 students, a teacher and both gunmen, who committed suicide following the nearly 22-minute rampage.

Officials at Greenport, New Suffolk and Southold school districts weren’t immediately available for comment.

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