Same grief, different outcomes: Texas mulls school safety

A woman prays at a makeshift memorial left in memory of the victims killed in a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, US on May 21, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

SANTA FE, TEXAS (REUTERS) - Mourners knelt before white wooden crosses on Monday (May 21) outside the Texas high school where 10 people were killed in the fourth deadly US school shooting this year, an image recalling similar gatherings following February's Florida school massacre.

A crowd of a few dozen people including student survivors of the attack, family members, chaplains and police gathered to observe a 10am CT (11pm Singapore time) moment of silence called for by Texas Governor Greg Abbott.

In contrast to Florida, where the deaths of 17 teens and educators sparked a youth-led movement calling for new restrictions on gun ownership, the Texas tragedy saw elected officials and survivors alike voicing support for gun rights.

Abbott, who noted that the 17-year-old accused of the attack appeared to have used weapons legally owned by his father in the Friday (May 18) attack at Santa Fe High School, on Tuesday was due to begin a series of meetings with educators and law enforcement officials on improving school safety.

"We need to do more than just pray for the victims and the families," Abbott said on Friday at the school outside Houston following the attack. He said any legal changes considered would" protect Second Amendment rights".

The Second Amendment of the US Constitution enshrines the right to bear arms. Gun rights proponents say that language prohibits regulations on gun ownership and argue that enforcement of existing laws should be sufficient to stop violence like the scenes that played out in Santa Fe.

Gun control groups point to the regular toll of shootings across the United States as evidence that more needs to be done to rein in the proliferation of weapons.

Abbott on Monday did not name any of the participants in three days of discussions but said they would include supporters of arming teachers and those who oppose it.

Mike Collier, a Democrat running for Texas lieutenant governor, expressed skepticism that the talks would bring significant change.

"Dozens of Texans have been killed in massacres just six months apart ... and our state leadership feebly announces 'roundtables,'" Collier said, referring to the November shooting of 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Police arrested Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, at the Santa Fe school following the rampage that they said he carried out with a shotgun and .38-caliber pistol. He has been charged with murder.

Two teachers and eight students, including Pakistani exchange student Sabika Sheikh, 17, were killed in the attack, police said.

Her father, Aziz Sheikh, said on Monday he hoped his daughter's death would spur gun control in the United States.

"Sabika's case should become an example to change the gun laws," Sheikh said in a phone interview.


Abbott's campaign website on Monday dropped a contest which gave donors a chance to win a shotgun, one of the types of weapons used in Friday's attack, said John Wittman, a campaign spokesman.

"This is a contest that started on May 1, well before these events," Wittman said in a phone interview.

The offer had remained up after the shooting, drawing criticism from Texas gun-control advocates including the organizers of the Houston March for Our Lives, the national protests that followed the Florida shooting.

"Abbott's decision to continue the raffle was disrespectful to the Santa Fe community," the group said on Twitter.

Police said Pagourtzis confessed to Friday's killings after he was taken into custody but have offered no motive yet for the massacre.

Pagourtzis' family said in a statement it was "saddened and dismayed" by the shooting.

February's massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, prompted a March law creating a US$67 million (S$90 million) statewide fund to train teachers to carry weapons in the classroom. Parkland rejected its share of that funding.

In Santa Fe, some students were more interested in that idea, with 18-year-old Kassidy Monroe saying, "In some cases arming teachers may help."

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