#SANTA FE, TEX. — They, like so many others, thought they had taken the steps to avoid this.
The school district had an active-shooter plan, and two armed police officers walked the halls of the high school. School district leaders had even agreed last fall to eventually arm teachers and staff under the state’s school marshal program, one of the country’s most aggressive and controversial policies intended to get more guns into classrooms.
They thought they were a hardened target, part of what’s expected today of the American public high school in an age when school shootings occur with alarming frequency. And so a death toll of 10 was a tragic sign of failure and needing to do more, but also a sign, to some, that it could have been much worse.
“My first indication is that our policies and procedures worked,” J.R. “Rusty” Norman, president of the school district’s board of trustees, said Saturday, standing exhausted at his front door. “Having said that, the way things are, if someone wants to get into a school to create havoc, they can do it.”
Galveston County Judge Mark Henry talks to reporters after a news conference in the parking lot of Santa Fe High School. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
The mass shooting — which killed 10 people and wounded 10 others in this rural community outside Houston — again highlighted the despairing challenge at the center of the ongoing debate over how to make the nation’s schools safer. It also hints at a growing feeling of inevitability, a normalization of what should be impossible tragedies.
The gunman in Santa Fe used a pistol and a shotgun, firearms common to many South Texas homes, firearms he took from his father, police said. So there were no echoes of the calls to ban assault rifles or raise the minimum age for gun purchases that came after the shooting three months ago in Parkland, Fla.
Most residents here didn’t blame any gun for the tragedy down the street. Many of them pointed to a lack of religion in schools.
“It’s not the guns. It’s the people. It’s a heart problem,” said Sarah Tassin, 61. “We need to bring God back into the schools.”
Texas politicians are pushing to focus on school security — the hardening of targets.