(The Center Square) – A Houston-area elementary school avoided a potential deadly situation on Thursday because of safety protocols in place.
Thursday’s incident occurred about a year-and-a-half after last year’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where 21 people, including 19 students, were killed by an alleged mentally ill teenager who entered the school through unlocked open doors.
At 7:21 a.m. Thursday, Spring Branch Independent School District Police were notified of a suspect attempting to steal vehicles at the Buffalo Elementary School as students were arriving, according to the district.
The suspect carjacked two separate vehicles, then stole a vehicle and left the school property. SBISD Police immediately responded and pursued the suspect, who hit several other vehicles while being chased. Eventually, the suspect bailed out of the vehicle and fled on foot, with SBISD Police continuing in pursuit.
One officer pursued the suspect on foot. The suspect then turned and pointed his weapon at the officer near the 2800 block of Campbell Road in northwest Houston, according to the district. The officer responded and fired several shots, killing the suspect. The officer was unharmed.
The Houston Police Department confirmed that the suspect had murdered a family member prior to the incident at the school.
Spring Branch ISD Superintendent Jennifer Blaine made the community aware of the incident in a statement she issued Friday morning.
She said while the suspect was on the grounds of Buffalo Creek Elementary, he was armed and dangerous and “may have tried to enter the school. The suspect was unable to enter the building as all doors were locked in accordance with SBISD safety protocols.”
“I applaud our Spring Branch ISD Police for acting swiftly to protect our school during arrival and our Buffalo Creek Elementary staff who responded immediately and followed our district’s safety protocols,” she said.
She also thanked the board for their “strong commitment to safety and security and for requiring our locked-door protocols for all district schools and facilities,” adding that the district will “always place the safety and security of our students, staff and families as our highest priority.”
After the event, SBISD Board President Chris Earnest issued a statement encouraging residents, “If you see an officer please thank them for serving and protecting our students daily.”
He said the district implemented its locked door policy last year, which “very well may have saved lives.”
Schools across Texas have implemented additional safety measures as SBISD did over the last year in the wake of lessons learned from the Uvalde shooting, which was the deadliest school shooting since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut that left 26 people dead.
A Texas House Investigative Committee report found that among several failures identified, Robb Elementary didn’t have a school safety plan in place and “didn’t adequately prepare for the risk of an armed intruder.” There was also a “regrettable culture of noncompliance by school personnel who frequently propped doors open and deliberately circumvented locks.”
The school was also in violation of its own policy, noting that “no one had locked any of the three exterior doors to the west building of Robb Elementary,” according to the report.
Unlike SBISD Police, who reacted immediately, in the case of Uvalde, the committee found, “Law enforcement responders failed to adhere to their active shooter training, and they failed to prioritize saving the lives of innocent victims over their own safety,” which prompted the legislature to pass additional safety measure requirements this year.
During the regular legislative session, the legislature passed a bipartisan bill to provide additional measures for public school safety, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law. HB 3 requires developing and implementing purchases related to and funding public school safety and security requirements, provides for additional mental health training, provides for contracting security personnel, requires armed security officers at campuses, including school marshals, allowing for exemptions, and amends the Education Code related to persons carrying firearms on school grounds to ensure school safety.
All districts are required to adopt and implement a multihazard emergency operations plan, monitored by the Texas Education Agency, among other provisions, according to the new law, which became effective Sept. 1.
The governor and Texas Department of Public Safety are also encouraging Texans to report suspicious activity using the iWatch reporting system, which alerts local and state law enforcement about suspicious behaviors and activities that appear to be criminal, terroristic or school-safety related.
Reports can be made online, via the iWatch phone app and by calling 1-844-643-2251. Reports can be anonymous.