Herman shares insights from Colorado school shootings

This map is a close-up of the Denver, Colo., area and south. It includes the cities of Aurora, Littleton, and Highlands Ranch, all areas where major school shootings and public incidents have occurred. Sydney Herman, a MHS graduate, teaches at Overland High School in Aurora, where she also resides.
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

Lately, it seems as if Colorado has been a hotbed for unfortunate incidents involving several schools/school districts. 

In April, an 18-year-old female from Florida flew to Colorado to potentially carry out a mass shooting similar to that of the devastating Columbine High School shooting on April 20, 1999. This woman was infatuated with the Columbine shooting, authorities said. 

The female eventually committed suicide in Colorado. 

In early May, two teens from STEM School Highlands Ranch opened fire at their school, which resulted in the death of an 18-year-old male student. The suspects were 18 and 16 years old. 

In July 2012, a 25-year-old male opened fire in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., killing a dozen people, injuring 70 others. 

After the most recent incidents in April and early May, Overland High School in Aurora, Colo., part of the Cherry Creek School District, has been forced to go on lockdown once. In addition, the school was placed under a secure perimeter at least twice. 

Monticello High School graduate Sydney Herman has been teaching at Overland for the past two years. She teaches freshmen and sophomores in Algebra I and geometry. 

Overland High School is a half hour from Columbine School in Littleton, and a half hour from Highlands Ranch. The school itself is just 10 minutes from the movie theater. 

“Initially, I did not make the connection with how close my school is to where the Aurora movie theater shooting took place,” shared Herman. 

Prior to moving to Aurora, Herman lived in Englewood, Colo., which is about 20 minutes south of Aurora. 

“When I moved, I drove past the theater for the first time, which is less than 4 miles away from the school,” she added. 

On April 16, a Tuesday, Herman recalled when Overland was placed on a secure perimeter due to the potential threat of the Columbine “copycat.” 

“This is a drill put in place when there is a threat outside of the building,” explained Herman. 

After the final bell sounded for the school day, Herman said students were kept inside for an extended period of time to ensure their safety. 

“All schools in our district, along with many other districts, were then closed on Wednesday, April 17,” said Herman. It was on that day that authorities in Colorado lifted the potential threat, after finding the suspect committed suicide. 

Herman said while the suspect was no longer a physical threat, there was added security and a police presence around all of the area schools. 

On Tuesday, May 7, the STEM School shooting occurred. The incident took place during the afternoon, and again, Overland was placed on a secure perimeter. 

Following both incidents, Herman said she opened up the lines of communication with her students. 

“I had a conversation with my classes about how they felt about their safety at school,” Herman said. 

With teens having unlimited access to social media and news sources, Herman said a lot of information can be overwhelming for them. It could both help and hurt. 

“I try to steer clear of conspiracy theories and rumors by focusing on facts we know, while emphasizing how it makes the students feel,” she added. 

When Overland was placed on lockdown, Herman said her students assumed it was just a drill. However, parents started texting their students regarding their safety. 

During a lockdown situation, the lights are turned off, cell phones are silenced, and everyone remains silent and out of sight. 

“My job is to remain as calm as possible, reassuring (the students) in a whisper that not only are we OK, but their siblings and friends that also attend school are OK,” explained Herman. 

In order to prepare for such incidents, Herman said the school has lockdown drills. They discuss safety procedures at the beginning of every year as well. 

“In light of recent events, it has been much more of a topic of conversation,” she said. 

Thinking back to her own school days at MHS, Herman said she never felt unsafe. 

“I was too young to really know what had happened in Columbine, and Virginia Tech felt so far away,” she said. (The Virginia Tech college shooting took place on April 16, 2007.) 

Herman always assumed a school shooting could never happen in Monticello, Iowa. “Sadly, that is not my mindset anymore,” she said. 

When asked if it ever crossed her mind that she’d be faced with life-threatening situations like this, Herman said it never occurred to her. 

“During college, if a school shooting occurred, it would weigh on me for a few days to a few weeks,” she said. 

While attending the University of Northern Iowa, Herman took part in ALICE training opportunities, which prepares people for an active shooter. 

When looking at schools to apply to for her teaching career, Herman said she researched schools that use ALICE training or another similar method. 

“It didn’t really become a reality to me until I had my own classroom in Arizona,” Herman said of her first teaching position. “I looked back into ALICE training, even going as far as researching extra door locks to potentially get for my (own) classroom.” 

In both incidents this year, Herman’s family and friends back in Monticello and Iowa reached out to her regarding her own safety and well-being. When talking with her loved ones, she just shares the facts as she knows them. 

“I reassure them that I am OK and my students are OK,” she said. 


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