Don’t you just love being kept in the dark?
On Tuesday, I’m walking near Marlboro Avenue and Ringgold Road and I hear a siren in the distance. A few seconds later one of East Ridge’s finest comes blowing by running hot. About 30 seconds later another police officer is hauling down Ringgold Road. A few seconds later, the battalion chief for East Ridge Fire Department rolls out of the Fire and Police Service Center.
I check Hamilton County’s 911 Website to see what has been dispatched. I’m thinking to myself that all hell is breaking loose somewhere. What I find is a miscellaneous call in the 4400 block of Ringgold Road and an EMS call in the 6000 block. No! Surely, all this first responder activity can’t be directed at those two relatively minor calls?
About 30 minutes later, I’m back at East Ridge News Online’s international headquarters and I pull up the Facebook. There’s a post from an individual asking why there are eight (8) cop cars at the high school. Someone responds on Facebook saying that there’s been a fight involving six girls.
I make a mental note to check on this. It’s been my experience that any media source is not going to get information an hour after an incident … especially one having anything to do with schools.
In the ensuing hours I see nothing else on social media concerning the incident, so I come to the conclusion that nobody’s life is in immediate jeopardy.
Then Wednesday afternoon the kid in Parkland, Florida goes in and slaughters 17 students and administrators at his former school.
On Thursday, like I do most days, I visited the ERPD lobby where daily reports of police activity are available for anyone to review. That’s where most of the “police briefs” are generated in East Ridge News Online. I see three or four pages of mundane reports dealing with burglaries, car break-ins and domestic issues.
I saw nothing on any incident at East Ridge High School.
So, I ask who I can talk with about a “possible” incident at the school. Assistant Chief Stan Allen comes out and I ask him what he knows. Chief Allen is puzzled and says he’s not aware of anything that happened at the school. He goes back and checks something called a “pass along sheet,” that alerts officers on the street and administrators to things that have happened in previous shifts that may warrant monitoring in coming days.
Chief Allen emerged and said he had no report of any incident at the high school.
Later in the day I had a chance encounter with an East Ridge cop. I asked about what happened at the high school on Tuesday afternoon. The cop told me that the school principal was not pleased when a bunch of cop cars answered the call of a fight at the school about the time school was letting out for the day.
I was not at all surprised to learn that school administrators didn’t want to draw attention to unpleasantness at the school. It’s been my experience at both East Ridge Middle and High Schools that it’s a closed shop when anyone from a newspaper, television station or radio station comes around asking questions.
An administrator asked this reporter to leave a public sidewalk on Bennett Road after a small fire was reported in a high school bathroom near the gym in 2015. I had already gotten a photo of the fire trucks and comments from some students who offered what had happened.
I walked back to my vehicle that was parked next door at the middle school and made a phone call. No more than a minute later my vehicle was approached by the high school resource officer telling me that I had to go “right now.” I complied, of course.
A year before, I came across a police report of middle school administrators finding a student’s letter where he threatening his teacher. I posted what information I had in “police briefs.” The next day I got an e-mail from a middle school administrator criticizing me for publishing the information and that I “needed to get my facts straight.”
When I called the administrator on the phone and quoted from the actual police report where I got the information, he changed his tune a bit.
Is it all going to come as a complete shock if someday the unthinkable happens here like it did in Parkland, Florida? Will the national media descend on East Ridge and uncover all manner of official reports filed with ERPD or the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Department regarding troubling incidents that were downplayed or ignored?
The dark is not such a bad place, is it? In the dark we don’t have to think about the unthinkable.