A 14-year-old girl lay bleeding on a computer lab floor while paramedics, just metres away, were unaware of her injuries, a new report on last November’s stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary reveals.
Minutes before, the girl had run into the lab, screaming: “Help me! I’ve been stabbed!” A teacher and two students administered first aid as best they could without a kit in the room while the class went into lockdown.
As first responders arrived at the school on Nov. 1, they discovered 13-year-old Letisha Reimer bleeding from her wounds in the school’s rotunda. They attended to her, but were unaware a second victim had taken refuge nearby. There was no phone or intercom in the computer lab to contact the outside world or the paramedics, and the students’ cellphones couldn’t find a signal.
Eventually, a student got up, peered out the door, saw first responders and opened the door for them.
Those details of the stabbing at Abbotsford Senior have been made public for the first time in a 31-page report released Tuesday by the Abbotsford school district. The School Security and Safety Review, led by superintendent Kevin Godden, examined the district’s crisis response to the tragic event that left Reimer dead and the other victim (who cannot be named due to a publication ban) badly injured.
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Godden said the report shows the district’s emergency procedures work well and the people tasked with carrying them are prepared to do so “with care and diligence.”
“There is still room for us to find improvement,” he said. “There are a few areas we could touch on to tighten up our procedures to do a better job of keeping our schools safe for staff and students.”
The report probes how the district’s emergency protocols succeeded, and sometimes failed, when they suddenly went into practice that fall afternoon. It lists 34 observations and 31 recommendations for how to make Abbotsford schools safer.
The recommendations will now go to appropriate district staff, and Godden anticipates a “firm decision” will be made on most of them by the middle of the 2017/18 school year.
Students and staff were locked down between 2 and 5 p.m. as police secured the school, and then opened locked classrooms one by one, making sure the assailant didn’t have an accomplice. The lockdown was analyzed and several observations were made, which Godden said may lead to procedure changes in the future:
• A siren and lockdown message repeated over the intercom for hours, which Godden said heightened anxiety and tension. “This is an easy fix,” he said.
• There were no bathroom facilities or food/water available during the lockdown. There were no garbage cans to be used as “emergency washrooms facilities” in classes due to the district’s recycling program.
• It was not clear who should provide first aid and there were no first aid kits in most classrooms, including R102 – where the stabbed girl ran for help. The district should consider putting more kits in classrooms and training more staff and students, the report says. Godden said it might not be practical to put a kit in all of the district’s hundreds of classrooms but the recommendation will be reviewed.
• Substitute staff do not receive emails sent to school staff and could miss important communications.
• It wasn’t clear how students who were outside during the lockdown should react.
• First responders did not have access to the locked school or classrooms when they arrived. Teachers do not open the door for anyone during a lockdown, even if police verbally identify themselves. This caused delay, as police had to find the principal with keys and sort through them to open each class door one by one. All Abbotsford Police patrol cars now have master keys to open every exterior and interior door of Abbotsford schools.
• The district might produce a lockdown instructional video with police. Godden said this would improve training already in place.
“How did the attacker get in the school?” is just one of the questions addressed, as the report looked at how the building and campus was prepared and managed on the day of the stabbing. The report observed the following issues and recommended policy reviews or changes for most:
• Staff should have a line of sight to school entry points and “should review the location of school offices and consider building security improvements where feasible.”
• The Fraser Valley Regional Library – which runs the public library adjacent to the school through which the stabbing suspect entered – does not share its incident reports with the school. The district should revise its rental agreement to ensure it does in the future. Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald said there has only been one call specifically from the library in the last five years – a report of a reckless driver.
• There is no barrier between the school and public library, which “may elevate risks to students.” Godden said the district will review the report’s recommendation that a barrier be installed and, if found necessary, the district would most likely pay for its construction.
• Local homeless shelters have reportedly been sending homeless individuals to use the library’s services but some people have “been known to be found eating, sleeping and taking refuge from the outdoors” there.
• There was some confusion on site, as parents entered the parking lot only to find the Bevan Avenue exit blocked off by police. District staff had parents back out and directed others to park off campus.
Staff at all levels in the district responded as best they could in the days following the stabbing, but some improvements could be made, the report finds:
• The district notified WorkSafeBC of the incident “immediately” but failed to file a preliminary report within 48 hours, as required. The district must meet this deadline after future incidents, the report says. WorkSafeBC did not issue any orders to the district after it filed its full report on Nov. 29.
• Crisis support staff worked long hard hours following the tragedy, the report says, and “the impact of this work on their health should not be overlooked.”
• Staffing practices should be reviewed, according to the report.
District staff tried to get relevant information to the public, particularly parents, via email, social media and its smartphone app. The report suggests policy reviews and changes for most of its observations about communication:
• Many parents arrived at both Abbotsford Senior and neighbouring Abbotsford Middle unaware of what was unfolding inside. At that time, word had been spread only via the Abby Schools App and the school and district websites.
• News media outlets were “relentless in getting the story” and district staff asked them to leave property numerous times. “While we understood the need for the media to present details of the incident, we were dealing with a serious tragedy in our district and we felt many media outlets did not conduct themselves appropriately.”
• A video of the stabbing emerged on social media, which the district attempted to have removed with help from the provincial government. It was posted by a student “with no malicious intentions,” the report says. Schools should continue to teach students how to appropriately use social media.
• Mobile phone coverage was spotty at the school, hindering communication between Abbotsford Senior staff and the school board office. The report urges the district to review cell coverage and spread awareness of where it is poor.
District staff will work hard over the summer and beyond to implement fixes to as many of these issues as possible, Godden said. A progress report will be made by June 30, 2018.