The Utica City School District will only allow parents into sporting events on school property for the next week as a security precaution following the shooting of a security officer who tried to break up a fight after the Thomas R. Proctor High School football game on Saturday.
The district hopes to lift that restriction in a week, interim Superintendent Kathleen Davis said during a press conference update, which included Utica Police Chief Mark Williams, Monday afternoon at the district administration building.
All Utica schools will also remain on lockdown all week to give Utica police time to complete their investigation and to give Davis time to study the Code of Conduct in relation to students’ behavior during the fight and shooting, she said.
The district has already sent out letters to eight students involved in the fight informing them that they are not allowed in Utica schools, Davis said. She declined to say how many of the students attend Utica schools.
The security officer who was shot in the back of the head gave officials permission to release his name: Jeff Lynch.
“He’d like to be able to use this tragic incident,” Williams said, “to be a voice to the community, to make a difference.”
Lynch is recovering well and may be released from the hospital “in the very near future,” said Williams, who called Lynch’s actions heroic.
Shot breaking up fight
Lynch was among a group of security and police officers who tried to break up the fight, but was the only one hit when two shots rang out during the melee.
A 16-year-old suspect, whose name is being withheld because of his age, was arrested on Sunday and faces multiple charges, all of them felonies: second-degree attempted murder, second-degree criminal possession of a weapon, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon (on school grounds), criminal possession of a firearm and first-degree criminal use of a firearm.
He attends an alternative education program, not Proctor, police said.
Repercussions beyond Utica
The shooting has had repercussions well beyond Utica.
“Obviously something like this shakes the entire region,” said Whitesboro Superintendent Brian Bellair. “There’s heightened attention and our hearts go out to Utica and everybody impacted. And it does raise a lot of concerns in the area because basically it’s something that happened in our own back yard.”
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Whitesboro faculty and staff joined others across the Mohawk Valley on Monday in wearing red and black, Utica’s school colors, to show support, Bellair said.
The initiative came from the Oneida County BOCES Teachers Association, which posted on Facebook on Sunday: “In light of the shooting of the Utica Proctor security officer that was shot while trying to do his job protecting everyone at a football game,” the post read, “the Union Presidents of Herkimer & Oneida County are asking all school professionals (Bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, support staff, teachers, nurses, and administration) to join together in wearing red and black on Monday, September 11, to support Proctor High School in a plea to the public to help make our school environments safer for everyone.”
Upping security measures
The Utica district is holding crisis team meetings and Proctor staff will meet after school on Monday, Davis said. The high school is also upping everyday security measures, she said. Students will have to show their IDs before they go through the weapons detection system, she said.
The high school is also adding more electrical outlets to speed up the processing of students, she said.
As for sports safety, the district is taking a number of actions besides restricting spectators for the next week, Davis said:
- The district will increase its security staff at a junior varsity football game on Saturday with Whitesboro in Utica from eight to 12 officers. It’s also working with the Utica Police Department to try to get police coverage as well, including squad cars in the parking lot.
- The district is consulting with the Whitesboro Central School District about how to proceed with both the junior varsity game and a varsity game scheduled for Friday night at Whitesboro.
- Sports practices will be held in more secure areas with security present.
- Davis will reach out to the Liverpool superintendent about an upcoming away game there.
- A night game at home, scheduled for October, will be rescheduled to daytime when surveillance is easier and crowds tend to be smaller.
One incident will not stop sports in the district, she said. “We are going to continue to move forward,” Davis said, “and to celebrate our successes and to be a strong district.”
If the varsity game does take place at Whitesboro, the district has been talking to the sheriff about possibly borrowing a metal detector for at least this weekend, Bellair said.
Hopefully by the end of the week, with help from the Utica police, everyone involved in the fight will have been identified, Davis said.
In fact, more than 500 people turned out for Saturday’s game and everything went peacefully inside the stadium, Davis said.
Davis, who has worked in 14 districts, stressed that the fight and shooting do not come from weak security measures. “The district does a phenomenal job of securing its events, more so than I’ve seen in any other districts,” she said.
“We are certainly confident,” she continued, “that we can have a game here, a safe game on (next) Saturday.”
Keeping things safe
Williams asked teachers, students and parents to do their part to keep the district safer, too. “If you hear something or see something, say something,” he said.
There have been documented cases in which someone speaking out prevented possible threats and tragedies, he said.
He also criticized the 2019 Raise the Age legislations, which has led, Williams said, to juveniles committing serious crimes with little or no punishment, a situation that has encouraged them to reoffend.
“You can only keep arresting people so many times without a tragedy,” he said. “We saw that this weekend.”
Williams did not say whether the suspect in this case has a criminal record.
The police are still identifying suspects from the fight and working with the district attorney to determine charges, Williams said, but more arrests will be coming.
Security won’t be enough to stop these kinds of incidents, though, Davis noted. That’s why the district has recently partnered with a number of community agencies to provide social-emotional-behavioral support.
“We have to get to the anger,” she said. “We have to make sure these students have some sort of alternative to the anger.”