Commitment to children's safety

By Greg Gelpi

Commitment to her fellow students and teachers may have saved lives.

Ciera Clark is credited with preventing what could have been a Columbine-like tragedy. In 1999, two students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., killed 15 people.

State Rep. Mike Barnes, D-Hampton, recognized Clark for alerting school officials of a plot to kill numerous people at Lovejoy High School in September.

Barnes, whose three children graduated from Lovejoy High School, said he called the school shortly after the incident to see if he could help and was told about Clark's actions.

"It takes a lot of courage to step out there nowadays," Barnes said. "Things are different from when I was in school. There are some dangerous people around schools now."

That same commitment was demonstrated by about 700 educators and law enforcement throughout the state at the Second Annual Georgia School Safety Seminar Monday. The seminar was hosted by the Clayton County Police Department and held at the Clayton County Schools Performing Arts Center.

Retired U.S. Army Col. Danny McKnight spoke at the seminar.

McKnight, who lead the rescue operation in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993, depicted in the movie "Black Hawk Down," said commitment is what sets America apart from other countries.

It was that "special commitment" that led his team of Army Rangers to fight to recover the bodies of fellow Rangers in the streets of Mogadishu.

"We didn't stay that night because we were trapped by the enemy," he said. "I promise you we could have fought our way out."

He and his soldiers stayed because of their commitment to each other, McNight said. That commitment is necessary in the new warfront, as the war is taken to the homeland.

"The freedom we most enjoy comes at a price," McKnight said. "The price has been paid many many times and will be paid many many times in the future."

Six of his Rangers were killed, and a total of 18 soldiers were killed during the rescue mission.

McKnight served more than 28 years in the Army and was last stationed as chief of staff to the First Army at Fort Gillem in Forest Park. He now serves as the coordinator of homeland security for Brevard County in Florida.

"We're in damned good shape," he said. "We really are."

The Lovejoy incident could have turned out differently, with the ease with which weapons can be brought into schools.

Chris Dorn, a 20-year-old history major at Georgia Tech, demonstrated how he could conceal more than 150 weapons on his body at once.

"If you don't have a comprehensive weapons screening program in your school, then you probably have some kind of weapons," Dorn said.

He pulled out handguns and knives, as well as full-length swords, shotguns and machine guns.

"The main purpose is to show the way kids bring weapons to school and what weapons they bring," Dorn said. "It's also to show the importance of a dress code."

For instance, he couldn't hide many of the weapons he had if his shirt was tucked in, he said.

Mike Dorn, his father and a school safety expert, also spoke at the conference. His son grew up watching him give presentations as the police chief of the Bibb County school system.

He used techniques that many students are already aware of, Dorn said. It's his hope that showing how easy it is to conceal a weapon will push schools and law enforcement harder to crack down on weapons.

"I saw him doing it, and I thought I would help," the younger Dorn said. "I thought it would be more convincing if a kid did it."

Under his baggy jeans and short-sleeve shirt, Chris Dorn pulled out weapon after weapon, although he noted it takes only one weapon to create a tragedy.

"It's an exaggerated presentation," Chris Dorn said. "Someone won't come in with all of these weapons. It just takes one, though."