Santa Barbara County law enforcement, school officials react to massacre
The nation Tuesday saw the largest school massacre since Sandy Hook in Uvalde, Texas, when two teachers and 19 children were killed at Robb Elementary School by Salvador Ramos, 18, with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle.
Authorities said he had legally purchased two such rifles just days prior to the shooting, right after his 18th birthday.
Mr. Ramos was a resident of the community that is about 85 miles west of San Antonio and had no criminal or mental health history. “Investigators shed no immediate light on the motive,” according to the Associated Press.
On Wednesday, law enforcement and school officials in Santa Barbara County reacted with shock and disbelief to the shootings as they talked to the News-Press about what needs to be done to deter gun violence.
And representatives of school districts and private schools across the county, the Sheriff’s Office and the county district attorney’s office have been invited to meet Friday with the county superintendent of schools to discuss mitigation strategies to deal with violence.
Bottom line: Children must be protected, Interim Santa Barbara Police Chief Bernard Melekian told the News-Press.
“The killings in Texas represent a level of depravity that is almost impossible to fathom,” Chief Melekian said. “As a father and grandfather, I can only barely imagine the anguish that the families of the victims are dealing with.
“With respect to gun control, if we allow this tragedy to fall into the same political cesspool that happened after Sandy Hook and other similar tragedies, then these deaths will just be added to the list of tragedies we cry about without actually doing anything,” Chief Melekian said. “Of equal importance is the need to expand our capacity with respect to mental health resources. I have no doubt that the suspect in this matter will turn out to have been struggling with mental illness and have displayed warning signs that caused people who knew him some concern.
“The problem is that there is no place for people to act on these concerns. That needs to change,” the police chief said. “Winston Churchill is supposed to have said: ‘When all is said and done, usually more is said than done.’ So far that has been our history and how we respond to these things.
“The problem with what we are dealing with here is a word that no one really likes anymore. But we are dealing with evil.” Chief Melekian said. “Somebody wiser than me will have to figure out how to keep evil away from small children.”
Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown also called on society to protect children and adults from violence.
‘Once again our nation finds itself in the midst of terrible tragedy,” Sheriff Brown told the News-Press. “The senseless and hateful mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, shake us to our core, and are even more horrific with the realization that both of these atrocities were committed by 18-year-old Americans. Our hearts are broken and our deep sympathy goes out to all the family members, friends and colleagues of the innocent victims.
“Preventing these crimes is a complex and difficult task, but as a nation we must work to encourage the reporting of any suspicious activity to law enforcement, and redouble our efforts to provide early intervention and mental health treatment to anyone who exhibits any indication of sociopathic thinking or behavior,” Sheriff Brown said. “We must also address the problems of bullying and its impact on youth, pay attention to the mental health needs of young people in our schools, and work to prevent access to firearms by anyone suffering from a serious mental illness.”
Dr. Susan Salcido, the Santa Barbara County superintendent of schools, told the News-Press that school districts and campuses maintain safety plans.
“Each plan is unique to the individual school campus, taking into consideration campus configurations, school personnel, and student ages, among many factors,” she said. “Safety plans contain protocols for responding to emergencies and incidents affecting the safety of the campus.
“The school shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas — and the many other recent, senseless acts of violence carried out on school campuses — serve as a call to action for education leaders,” she said. “We continue to focus on school safety as our top priority. This tragic incident creates heightened urgency around the need to not just review our safety plans, but to renew our support of our school leaders, staff and families by working together — across sectors — to keep our campuses safe.”
Dr. Salcido said she is convening Friday’s meeting with superintendents from school districts and private schools, the sheriff’s office, the district attorney’s office and crisis prevention and intervention expert Kelly Moore, to make sure everyone’s on the same page with mitigation strategies. She also said she wants to ensure “that we are being responsive to our community’s questions and concerns and that we are working together in determining what our next steps should be.”
District Attorney Joyce Dudley told the News-Press, “I think we are safer when a law enforcement school safety officer is on campus. I hate that we live in a world where we do need that but I believe we do.”
Police Chief Melekian said he’s “a big believer in school safety officers.
“But the truth is there would not have been a school resource officer in an elementary school… Historically school resource officers have been primarily in high schools and junior high schools, primarily due to the age of the children. The issue of physical security probably needs to get more attention,” said Chief Melekian.
Chief Melekian worked for the Department of Justice as director of the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services under Attorney General Eric Holder from 2009 to 2013. Chief Melekian worked for the Department of Justice during the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting.
District Attorney Dudley expressed her initial reaction to Tuesday’s shootings: “Disgust, pain, heartbreak, fear, a sense of helplessness. We try to do so much, and yet again we have the most vulnerable in our population being massacred. We have parents, grandparents, loved ones all over the world having the image of not only Sandy Hook but now this.”
Hilda Maldonado, superintendent of Santa Barbara Unified School District, discussed Tuesday’s tragedy with the News-Press.
“The first thing that we need to be thinking about is to look at how one comes to own guns — ensuring we know who owns guns and what is happening with them so that we are aware and careful and cognizant of the fact that guns are being used in our schools against our children. This country should not have any school site that is not safe.”
“It is unconscionable that we continue to have events like this take place in schools, especially elementary schools,” said Dr. Maldonado.
“I find it hard to think about how much this has impacted schools in the last decade or so,” the superintendent continued. “This is not what our school sites used to be. We used to be able to go to school and think of that as one of the safest places. The fact that we have to do active shooter training in schools is unconscionable.”
Dr. Maldonado said Congress and the California legislature should: “Act immediately and swiftly with resolve to ensure that we put measures in place to protect lives. We can’t continue to have them study the issue, talk about the issue. We really need to have a strong policy of what our country needs to be when it comes to gun safety. We want lives saved, and that is currently not the case.”
Ms. Dudley said that to her knowledge, California has the greatest number of laws regulating guns in the U.S., but noted the need for funding for law enforcement.
“I think there are several gun laws being considered in California now,” she said. “As much as I like the restrictions around guns, California needs to put money behind the investigation. We need the money behind law enforcement to enforce these laws. We have plenty of laws, but we don’t have the enforcement to make sure that the people of California are safe.”