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Investigating threats, patrolling schools -- keeping the kids safe
Karen House
Feb. 23, 2018, 8 p.m.

Feb. 24, 2018 – On Friday, Feb. 23, the Sequatchie County Sheriff's Department and the Dunlap Police Department went to the local high school to investigate a report of a possible verbal threat against the schools.

In the wake of recent school shootings in other parts of the country, personnel at every school and officers in every community have been on edge, watching for any hint of a threat to their schools.

As it turned out, the potential threat at Sequatchie County High School was determined to be “unsubstantiated,” and officers went back to their normal duties without ever having to put the school on lock-down.

A similar incident at Daisy Elementary School in Hamilton County was investigated the very same day, when a student found a bomb threat scrawled on the wall of a restroom. After a bomb-sniffing dog gave the building a thorough search, it too was dismissed as a false alarm.

The mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Valentine's Day shocked the nation. Even more shocking was the revelation that the Sheriff's Department's own School Resource Officer at the school waited outside the building for four minutes while Nikolas Cruz killed people inside.

School Resource Officers (SRO) are generally full-time sheriff's deputies that some communities place in their schools to befriend the students and keep a watchful eye on things, like a sheepdog in a flock of sheep. Often, they can head off a problem before it becomes a danger to students.

Sequatchie County Schools have a SRO on each of the three campuses: Deputy Steve Billingsley at Griffith Elementary School, Dep. Danny Hall at Sequatchie County Middle School, and Dep. Chris Dennis at Sequatchie County High School.

Each officer is a Sequatchie County deputy sheriff, fully equipped and armed like any other deputy. They patrol the halls and watch over the cafeterias at lunch time. They carry guns.

As the SRO at Griffith Elementary School, Dep. Steve Billingsley went with his students to the high school Friday for the annual spelling bee.

Speaking by phone Friday afternoon, Sheriff Ronnie Hitchcock confirmed that all his officers at the schools are under orders to protect the children. He felt sure that none of the Sequatchie County SROs would stand by and let their children be hurt by a rogue attacker.

All our SROs know to make entry to the building,” Sheriff Hitchcock said. “That's our job. We roll on scene, we go in the building.”

In a recent Dunlap News series on staying safe in Dangerous Times, School Safety Supervisor Rhonda Harmon said, “We have an SRO in each school. It is very unusual to have an SRO at every school.”

Should any rogue attacker target a Sequatchie County school, that SRO is the first line of defense, and when backup help could be several minutes away, he might be the one that stops a tragedy.