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Originally published February 23, 2012 at 8:52 PM | Page modified February 23, 2012 at 10:56 PM

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School where shooting occurred reopens, counselors on hand

After an accidental shooting, Bremerton officials assured parents that the school remained safe.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Washington state law is straightforward: Any student who brings a gun to school is expelled for at least a year.

What's less clear is how to prevent the gun from getting there.

Though that question was on everyone's mind Thursday morning, students, staff and parents seemed ready to get back to the everyday routine at Armin Jahr Elementary School.

Although some families at the Bremerton school kept their children home after a third-grader was shot in a classroom Wednesday afternoon, the doors reopened Thursday morning so that students would have a chance to return to normal and talk about what happened, said Patty Glaser, the district spokeswoman.

About 10 counselors were there to talk with students, parents and staff members as they dealt with worries over school safety after the shooting.

Parent Casey Kroesser was on her way to pick up her third-grader Wednesday afternoon, her 6-year-old kindergartner with her, when she heard that someone had been shot at the school. She immediately ran her younger daughter to the car and told her to lie on the floorboards until she came to get her.

"If anyone's face other than mine showed up, she was to start screaming and get under a seat," Kroesser, 37, said.

Once both girls were home and safe, Kroesser talked to them about what happened in a more measured way: She asked them how they felt about what had happened and reviewed what to do if they heard someone was bringing something dangerous to school.

She insisted they attend class the next day, she said, because she wanted them to be with peers who were going through the same thing.

Ana Mari Cauce, a child clinical psychologist and the University of Washington provost, said children pick up on how adults act in confusing or traumatic situations. And while parents can't take back an initial, emotional response to a crisis, it's important that they keep calm as soon as they know their child is safe.

It's also best for them to get back to a routine as soon as possible, particularly when what happened is an accident, she said.

"The message that has to be communicated is, 'You are safe,' " Cauce said.

Edna Haven tried to convey that very thing to two of her children while walking them to school Thursday. "We're not worried; we're safe," she said.

As they walked into class, some children were cheerful and talkative while others seemed overwhelmed.

Ellis McAdoo walked into the school with his mother, but soon walked back out to the car just before the bell rang.

"I tried to get him back on the horse, but it was just a little too much for him," said his mother, Christy McAdoo. "I think he'll be fine tomorrow."

Glaser reassured parents who chose not to send their kids to school Thursday that what happened was a rare accident and the school remained safe.

"We have every reason to believe that this is an isolated incident that will not happen again," she said.

An accidental shooting in an elementary school is such an anomaly that it's difficult to know how it could have been prevented, school safety experts said.

Metal detectors aren't the answer, said Frank Hewins, who chairs a state committee on school safety and is the superintendent of Franklin Pierce Schools in Tacoma.

"That's a knee-jerk reaction," Hewins said. "You're not gonna put a metal detector in an elementary school."

State law requires that students who bring a weapon to school be expelled for a year, but students can appeal that decision and the student's future is largely determined on a case-by-case basis. Right now, the district is following the lead of Bremerton police in the case of the 9-year-old boy who allegedly had the gun and is in custody.

School-safety expert Martin Speckmaier said he knew of no school districts in Washington state with metal detectors, but if they are used they have to be part of a much bigger violence-prevention program. Schools also must look for behaviors and warning signs that could identify a potential shooter.

Parents and experts alike said it seemed that Armin Jahr had done a good job of responding in this case. But statewide, Hewins said, more attention needs to be paid to issues such as bullying and behavioral problems.

"You can't put this stuff on the back burner," he said. "It's real. Things happen and you have to be prepared."

Lark Turner: 206-464-2761 or lturner@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @larkreports.

Reporter Christine Clarridge contributed to this report.

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