Coy Ferreira stood inside a rural California classroom, more than a dozen 5- and 6-year-olds huddled in the corner as a gunman sprayed bullets at the school and tried to break his way in. Ferreira was terrified that people would die.
But the doors were locked and all of the children were inside, part of a school plan the staff and students had practiced in drills and knew by heart. They barricaded the school in just 47 seconds that morning last month, probably saving the lives of countless people at Rancho Tehama Elementary School.
“They all knew what to do,” said Ferreira, who was dropping his daughter off at school when they heard a gunshot nearby. “No one stumbled. No one was hiding. They just ran to their classroom, like they had been told to do.”
The near-flawless response to what could have been a bloodbath during a deadly shooting rampage on Nov. 14 came almost exactly five years after 20 children and six teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. That attack, which involved a mentally unstable man using an assault-style rifle, shattered the sense of security felt in the nation’s elementary schools.
The massacre on Dec. 14, 2012, led to calls for gun control, as families mourned the loss of their innocent children. Five years later, little about the nation’s federal gun laws has changed. But the Newtown shooting forever altered the way American schools approach safety and assess risk, ushering in an era in which schools feel particularly vulnerable to the threat of shootings and students must know what to do in case one happens.