Wednesday, October 30, 2013

EDITORIAL >> Close call for community

At a time when violence in schools is becoming more common across the country, we are reminded of how close our community came to tragedy when a man hijacked a Jacksonville school bus on Oct. 17 and drove 11 children and the bus driver to Cabot while threatening them with a knife.

Thanks to the composure of Shelia Hart, a bus driver for 22 years, no one was injured. She’d received training on how to respond to just such an incident only about a week before it happened.

Hart calmly pleaded with 22-year-old Nicholas John Miller, the alleged hijacker, not to hurt anyone. “I kept telling him to be careful. I asked him, couldn’t me and the babies get off. Let’s just take them to school. I told him, you could have this bus just let us off,” she told The Leader last week after being honored for her heroics.

She credits her motherly instincts for helping to end the standoff peacefully. “I had to stay strong for them. That’s what we’re supposed to do, protect them,” she said.

Toward the end of the kidnapping, which lasted about half an hour, the hijacker was even using Hart’s cell phone to call his parents to tell them that he expected to go to prison and mentioned using meth that day.

Not assuming that the hijacking was an isolated incident, Hart says she’ll remain vigilant. “I’ll be scanning around, making sure there’s nobody there,” she said.

Not all school officials who try to protect their students are as lucky.

In Nevada last week, a 12-year-old boy armed with a semi-automatic 9-mm pistol shot and killed math teacher Michael Landsberry, who was a Marine Corps veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Then the shooter committed suicide.

Landsberry died after stepping in front of the shooter to prevent more students from being shot. Two others were injured in the gunfire.

Last week in Massachusetts, another math teacher, Colleen Ritzer, was allegedly murdered with a box cutter by a 14-year-old student.

Shelia Hart spared us from that kind of violence, and she was showered with hugs from grateful parents and many presents, including a $1,000 check from an anonymous donor.

 We thank Ms. Hart and the Pulaski County Special School District for preparing their staff for the worst and also thank those who took the time to honor her for heroism.

We salute her and the thousands of teachers, bus drivers and support staff who protect our children while they are away from home.