Sandy Hook shooting: Heightened security, anxiety at Hudson Valley schools

Shirley Johnson meets her graddaughter Dyamond McQuillara after school at the Daniel Webster Elementary School in New Rochelle. (Dec. 17, 2012)

Students and teachers in the Hudson Valley, still reeling from the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, returned home from school Monday amid heightened security -- and lingering anxiety.

The six schools of the Katonah-Lewisboro School District -- and at least four schools in Connecticut -- briefly blocked entry or exit Monday in response to reports of a man wearing a mask and carrying what appeared to be a rifle at a train station in Ridgefield, Conn. The Katonah district is about 12 miles from Ridgefield. The Katonah lockout was lifted shortly before noon, but in Ridgefield parents swarmed to schools to pick up their children.

Four school staff members kept watchful eyes outside Pawling Elementary School -- where the tragedy brought personal grief to current and former staff members.


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Jackie Barden, who teaches second grade at the Dutchess County school, lost a son, Daniel, in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre that left 20 first-graders and six adults dead. Jay Sherlach, a former principal of Pawling Elementary, lost his daughter-in-law, Mary Sherlach, Sandy Hook's school psychologist.

Interim Pawling Central School District Superintendent W. Michael Mahoney said neighbors will rally behind Barden.

"The whole community will embrace and support her family," he said.

Libby Bauer, a retired teacher who worked as a substitute Friday at Rye Country Day School, said that it took until Monday for schools to fully grapple with the issues raised by the bloodshed.

"It was not until today that it was being fully dealt with at school," she said.

In Putnam County, Sheriff Donald B. Smith said that security has been tightened at county schools and other public facilities after the Fairfield County shooting.

Ridgefield police later charged Wilfredo Seda, 22, with breach of peace. A message seeking comment was left on Seda's home phone.

Meanwhile, parents wondered how to guarantee their children's safety in a world where the unthinkable can suddenly be real.

"Every parent sent their kid off to school with this weighing on them," said Heidi Reiser of Bedford.

Neil Walsh, the father of two elementary pupils and one middle school student in the Katonah-Lewisboro district, voiced confidence in administrators.

"They are really on top of security," he said. "As a parent, after the horrible incident, you are always on edge, but we have a very strong community and strong leaders."

Nicole Gonzalez, of Yonkers, who brought her 7-year-old daughter to PEARLS Hawthorne School in Yonkers on Monday, said it was difficult to explain to her children that there are "bad people in the world."

Though the school has a security guard, Gonzalez said there are no guarantees.

"It's comforting to know that we have a security guard, but at the same time, someone comes in with a weapon like that? How much does it [security] really help?" she said, referring to the assault rifle used by Adam Lanza at Newtown.

Parent Kaete Nazaroff said she hasn't discussed the shooting with her daughter, a pupil at Upper Nyack Elementary.

"I am not going to say anything until my daughter asks," she said. "I acted as if nothing is wrong, and she went to school."

Juris Miemis, who was walking his granddaughter to Pawling Elementary Monday, was downcast but confident about safety at the school.

"It's difficult to explain what you feel," he said. "You fear what is going to happen. What is the root cause of this? How do you resolve it?"

At Mamaroneck Avenue Elementary School in White Plains, parents scrambled to get their children to class.

For James Robinson, it was pretty much a regular Monday school morning, he said after he dropped off his two boys, a fifth-grader and a kindergartner.

"It was the same, really," he said. "The only thing was staff members were asking everybody basically where they were going."

He had talked during the weekend to his children about the Newtown shooting, he said, and none felt any additional stress or fear heading to school Monday.

"It's one of those things that can happen anywhere -- a shopping mall, movie theater, really just anywhere, unfortunately," he said.

Howard Reiss, another Upper Nyack parent, said he was distressed by events but was confident his child is resilient.

"Of course, I have questions and concerns," he said. "Could it happen in our school? However, when it comes to my 7-year-old, it's like a knee scrape -- 10 minutes later, they move on to something else."

With Rory Glaeseman, Susan Stava and The Associated Press

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