Texas shooting aftermath: Attention turns to Calgary school safety, youth mental health support

After a massacre at a Texas elementary school, some are looking into safety protections against gun violence in Calgary's school system while mental health experts are offering advice for difficult conversations about mass shootings.

Grief is pouring out over the 19 elementary school children and two teachers who were shot dead Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

Officials say the 18-year-old shooter was armed with an AR-15 style weapon, and was killed by a border patrol agent at the scene.

"It's absolutely horrific," said Martina Kanciruk, a registered psychologist who practises with children and youth in Calgary.

"I can only imagine how terrifying it would be."

Tragically in the United States, school shootings are not uncommon.

Just 10 years ago, the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. elementary school took place at Sandy Hook in Newton, CT., with 26 lives lost.

In 2018, a gunman opened fire at a high school in Parkland, FL., killing 17.

SCHOOL SAFETY PRACTICES

Schools across North America, including here in Calgary, now practise drills for active shooters.

Preparation for violent attacks is encouraged, doors are locked frequently, and police officers are assigned to school buildings.

"We are in a situation where that could happen here and that's not to fear monger. That's the prevention piece that we have of trying to make sure that everyone is prepare that if a situation did arise in a school, that for safety," said Tad Milmine, a student resource officer with the Calgary Police Service (CPS).

"Everyone knows what to do."

Milmine says his role is to connect with the student body and to intervene early when signs of potentially criminal or dangerous behaviour are spotted, and called his work gratifying for its ability to make a difference in young people's lives.

In a statement to CTV News, the Calgary Board of Education says, "Ensuring that schools are safe for students and staff is critically important to all school boards."

"Calgary Board of Education schools are required to have plans in place to respond to specific emergency situations such as fire drills, lockdowns, off site evacuations and external threats," it read.

"CBE and other school boards worked with the Calgary Police Service to develop our lockdown protocols and ensure they are consistent across the city."

The Calgary Catholic School District also utilized active shooter drills and student resource officers to minimize anxiety for responses to threats.

"CCSD also has counsellors in all of our junior high and high schools, as well as wellness workers in our elementary schools, that are available to speak to students or parents who have any anxiety or concerns," read a statement.

"The safety of our students and staff is CCSD's top priority."

Both school boards say they are grieving with the victims of the Texas shooting and all those affected.

CHILD MENTAL HEALTH EXPERT ADVICE

Such extreme events can cause children to be distressed or feel unsafe at their schools and child mental health experts say honest conversations can help alleviate the mental toll.

"Saying 'don't worry' doesn't fix the problem. It actually makes people worry more," said Martina Kanciruk.

She says it's better to instead express understanding that it must feel scary and to offer to talk about what happened.

Kanciruk says it's important to acknowledge their worry, then explain that the likelihood the tragedy could happen to them is not likely, to balance the risks and the realities of being ready for the worst case scenario.

"If we don't talk about things, all we end up doing is having a generation of youth that push feelings down, that push their thoughts down, and don't learn how to talk about them, process them or get their questions answered," she said.

CANADA SEES SCHOOL VIOLENCE

While school shootings are rare, Canada isn't immune to violence.

On May 18, CPS responded to Bowness High School to arrest a student accused of bringing a stolen handgun and ammo to school in a backpack.

No one was hurt, there was no lockdown.

The youth has been charged with six offences in relation to carrying a concealed weapon, unauthorized possession, careless use and tampering with a serial number.

However, the initial school memo sent to parents after the incident didn't say there was a firearm involved, sparking concerns about transparency from the school.

Principal Jana Macdonald sent a new letter on Wednesday, saying she was responding at the direction of law enforcement and details were ultimately up to CPS to disclose.

Macdonald added it's important to be as transparent as possible and student safety is paramount.

Details of the incident were filed with the Calgary Police Commission during its public meeting on Wednesday.

In those details submitted it said, "subsequent investigation revealed student was likely seeking attention and not motivated by violent tendencies."