The ripple effect of a mass shooting in a Texas elementary school was evident on Long Island Wednesday as law enforcement stepped up campus patrols, evaluated school security and vowed to redouble efforts at stanching access to illegal firearms.
In Nassau County, police visited 300 schools Wednesday while in Suffolk, officers were "taking all necessary precautions to keep our children safe," said Police Commissioner Rodney Harrison in a statement.
At a news conference, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder struck a reassuring tone, explaining that safety measures in place are protecting students in the classroom as much as possible.
"We've already done security assessments on almost every one of those facilities," Ryder said. "Our homeland security officers go out every day to make the assessments and security recommendations are in place."
Ryder said most campuses have locked entrances, and schools can use the Rave app, which connects immediately to 911 dispatchers. The app allows schools to call police, text or send an urgent signal for police to respond.
"I'd like to tell you we could protect everybody and every moment of the day," Ryder said. "Impossible, but the more preventive work that we do prevents them from conducting their acts against us."
On Tuesday, an 18-year-old gunman opened fire in a fourth-grade classroom of a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, killing 19 children and two teachers. Responding officers shot and killed the gunman, Texas law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said the massacre, coming on the heels of a mass shooting in Buffalo on May 14 and a passenger shot dead Sunday on a Manhattan-bound subway car, was almost too much to bear.
"The only word I can use is horrified. That's how I felt when we got the news yesterday about Texas," she said. "The victims in Buffalo haven't even been buried yet. We were waiting for news on the subway shooter and instead got the news about the killing at the school."
Donnelly said prosecutors are working with police and a firearms suppression and intelligence unit to take illegal guns off the streets, and to stop the flow of such guns to Long Island.
Between January and May of last year, 82 guns were seized in Nassau. Donnelly said during that same period since she took office this year, 166 guns have been seized.
Suffolk also uses the Rave app in schools. The county has launched the SHARE initiative to connect school district cameras to the Suffolk police Real Time Crime Center.
Law enforcement officials have said the initiative is designed to enhance the response to an active shooter so that police officers will be directed toward specific entry points and locations in a school building to find an assailant or prevent an incident from escalating. School districts can allow police to control security systems and open doors for first responders during an emergency situation.
Harrison said his department remains "in constant communication with our law enforcement partners and are monitoring information about the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. While no amount of thoughts and prayers can bring their loved ones back, we will continue to pray for healing for the families left behind from this senseless tragedy."
Suffolk police have "enhanced patrols around all school buildings within the police district," Harrison said. "The police department has a close working relationship with our school district partners and has a number of programs to enhance school safety."
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone attended a vigil Wednesday for the victims in Buffalo and Texas.
“At a time like this, when hate rears its ugly head in an effort to isolate and marginalize certain communities," Bellone said at the vigil outside county headquarters in Hauppauge, "in Suffolk County we are saying loudly and clearly that we will never let that happen here.”
Amid the heightened vigilance, a "domestic shooting report" to the Southampton Police Department on Wednesday led to a "lockout" at Eastport and Tuttle Avenue elementary schools, according to the Eastport-South Manor Central School District.
In a letter to school district families, officials said second-graders from Tuttle Avenue were on a field trip at the Eastport Fire Department station house when the report of a shooting "in the vicinity of our neighboring community" came in. All students and faculty eventually returned safely to their classrooms and "our emergency response plan was immediately enacted," said district Superintendent Joseph A. Steimel in the letter.
Southampton police officers responded at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday after a man fired two shots at a pickup truck outside a residence, said Lt. Susan Ralph. The Eastport and Tuttle Avenue schools are within two miles of where the man opened fire, Ralph said. Police were continuing to search for the man Wednesday night, she said.
In Nassau, County Executive Bruce Blakeman said he was working with police to monitor threats and increase patrols around churches and schools.
"I'm very confident with the plan we already had in action prior to this incident," Blakeman said. "We have a heightened sense of security now out of concern for copycats and want to make sure we have every resource in the county to protect our schoolchildren and the public."
With Keldy Ortiz and AP