Local SROs remember Uvalde massacre as they head into new school year
By Wes Tomlinson
For the Enquirer
The May 24 elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 children and two teachers dead has school resource officers at Morgan County Schools on high alert as they head into a new school year.
School resource officer Mike Hazel is beginning his second year as an SRO in Danville schools. He retired from the Decatur Police Department this past July after a 26-year career in law enforcement.
Hazel on Friday said he did not understand why Uvalde police officers “hesitated to act” while the gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, remained in the school with a semi-automatic rifle for more than an hour before being confronted and killed.
“In my mind, I couldn’t live with that kind of hesitation, especially being outside hearing shots go off like that,” Hazel said. “I’m not trying to be a hero or anything, but I know why I’m there. The appropriate response is to do our duty and protect these teachers and students.”
Sgt. Shannon Ferguson, who supervises the SRO program in Morgan County Schools, said the Uvalde shooting is a reminder to SROs that they must be vigilant.
“I think that since the school shooting in Uvalde and the incident recently in Gadsden, there’s more of a school safety perspective in the county,” Ferguson said. “Because it’s not a matter of if it’s going to happen, it’s when it’s going to happen.”
On June 9, authorities shot and killed a man who was attempting to enter Walnut Park Elementary School in Gadsden.
Hazel, Ferguson and other Morgan County SROs were honored Friday at a luncheon hosted by the American Legion Post 15 on U.S. 31. Marsha King, Post 15 auxiliary president, said SROs are essential.
“We’re having shootings in schools and people are getting seriously injured. Our SROs are more important now than ever,” King said.
Ferguson, 47, said his desire to protect children and teachers and to be a father figure to at-risk children inspired him to enter the SRO program last year.
“Some of these kids don’t have father figures at home and if they see an officer who takes the time to check on them and talk to them, then they see that officer as a role model,” Ferguson said. “It’s reached a point where there’s a lot of negativity said about law enforcement, and I want to change the younger generation’s perspective on that.”
Ferguson is a 21-year veteran with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and is entering his second year with the SRO program.
“I’ll be at Priceville High School this year, so we’ll have two officers there,” Ferguson said. “Having that extra officer will free me up so I can go to the other schools as well.”
Ferguson said SROs should be alert at all times and act promptly when dealing with potentially dangerous situations. He said quick action last school year may have protected a Priceville school administrator from a student who made a shooting threat in a Facebook post.
“That night … we rounded up every individual that was involved in the post and questioned them,” Ferguson said.
Hazel, 50, was put to the test in April when a woman who appeared intoxicated entered Danville High School.
“She made her way into the school and said she was there to see a friend of hers,” Hazel said. “We immediately made contact with her. I got her out of the building. I went to check her vehicle, and that’s when I noticed she had a couple of bottles of whiskey that was almost empty and she had a loaded handgun on the front seat of her car.”
The woman was charged with public intoxication and possession of a concealed handgun without a permit.