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More police patrol Northland schools after Texas shooting

School leaders offered condolences and reassurance.

People react after a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde
A law enforcement officer works at the scene of a mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
Nuri Vallbona / Reuters
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DULUTH — Some schools around the Northland heightened their security Wednesday after a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers the day before at a Texas elementary school.

Several school districts in the Duluth area asked for larger law enforcement presence this week, according to their respective superintendents, and a few asked staff to double-check measures that were already in place, such as the magnets on security doors.

Most middle and high schools in the area already have a police officer — a “school resource officer” — stationed there, but three school district leaders said officers were set to patrol past schools more often this week so they could be noticed more readily and be on-hand more speedily.

“Just being more visible to help reassure family and staff that they’re present and around,” said Amy Starzecki, district administrator at Superior School District.

Duluth Public Schools staff said they did not beef up security at their schools, but pointed to some safety-minded measures they already have in place, such as mental health help for students and the district's school resource officer program.

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‘We’re heartbroken’

The mood in those schools ranged from sad to anxious to frustrated, according to News Tribune interviewees.

“We’re heartbroken over it. It’s kids,” John Engelking, superintendent at Proctor Public Schools, said. “Anybody who’s involved in education is involved in education because they care about the future. They care about children. They care about making sure that education is a place that’s safe, and when we see this, it’s devastating.”

Engelking and other district leaders sent letters to parents and staff offering reassurance and condolences in about equal measure.

“There’s nothing I can say to minimize the pain and horror of such horrible events, but I assure you that we will do everything possible to make sure that our schools are safe and our students are supported,” John Magas, the superintendent of Duluth Public Schools, wrote Wednesday morning . “No words could fully express my sorrow to those affected, please know that we will be here for our students and families who may need additional care.”

Wayne Whitwam, the superintendent at Hermantown Community Schools, said the plan there was to have as normal of a day as possible on Wednesday.

“You get down to the elementary, I’m not sure – we’re not going to bring the topic up,” he said. “It would have to be a topic that parents brought up at home because parents may have chosen not to tell their kids or to not expose them to that. We don’t want to be the ones to open that can of worms. We certainly don’t want to scare them.”

Politicians’ responses

Minnesota and Wisconsin state grants offered millions for school districts to beef up their security measures. Districts in both states often have improved communication systems, secured doorways and more thorough camera coverage.

On Wednesday, the News Tribune asked U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., and Tom Tiffany, R-Wis., two questions about the shooting: What action, specifically, will you take to prevent another such tragedy, and will regulating access to guns be part of that?

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Neither responded by Wednesday afternoon.

Late Wednesday morning, Stauber, the 8th Congressional District representative from Hermantown, tweeted that he was praying for the victims.

“As parents of school aged children, Jodi and I were horrified with the shooting yesterday in Texas,” Stauber said in the tweet. “Every child should be safe in their homes and schools. This was pure evil. The families of these innocent victims are in our prayers.”

As of early Wednesday afternoon, Tiffany, the 7th Congressional District representative from Minocqua, had not issued a public statement on the shooting.

Both Stauber and Tiffany receive considerable donations from pro-gun organizations and tout defending the Second Amendment on their campaign websites.

According to OpenSecrets.org , which monitors campaign finance data, Stauber has received $203,595 from the National Rifle Association, through direct and independent donations, since his first race in 2018. The site puts him as the 33rd-highest recipient of NRA money among all current members of the U.S. House and Senate.

Tiffany has received $4,234 since 2020, the site said.

Authorities said Salvador Ramos, 18, on Tuesday shot his grandmother, who survived, before fleeing and crashing his car near Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killing at least 21 people

In a news release, Stauber’s 8th Congressional District challenger, state Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth, said it was time to stand up to the gun lobby and their allies in office.

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“As a parent, it’s heartbreaking to see this unfold, and I deeply feel for those impacted by this tragedy. As a legislator, it’s absolutely enraging to know there are actions we can take to address gun violence, but too many politicians refuse to stand with families in enacting sensible reforms, like stronger background checks and red flag laws, and who instead stand with the gun lobby for their own political convenience,” Schultz said.

The shooting

Salvador Ramos, 18, stormed Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday. The gunman allegedly killed 19 children and two teachers, making the attack one of the deadliest school shootings in years, according to Reuters.

Ramos was killed by a U.S. Border Patrol officer, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters Wednesday.

Police claimed the teen’s motive was unclear and that he acted alone. In a Facebook post he reportedly made about 15 minutes before the massacre , Ramos said he was going to shoot up an elementary school, Reuters reported.

Several news outlets have reported that he bought two rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition a few days before the attack.

Vigil in Duluth

A vigil was planned at Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth on Wednesday afternoon for the victims of the Ulvade attack and for a second mass shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, the week prior.

This story was updated at 7:55 p.m. to clarify Duluth Public Schools policies and to correct the spelling of Wayne Whitwam's name. It was originally posted at 4:39.

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Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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