FLORENCE — A group of about 30 children and adults met before school at Forest Hills Elementary on Monday to memorialize the lives of 20 first-graders gunned down on Friday at their Newtown, Conn., elementary school.
A Forest Hills student read from a list calling the names of each deceased child, pausing briefly halfway through to collect her emotions.
"This is hard on children everywhere, and as parents, all we can do is pray for our own children's safety and for the healing of the hearts of those grief-stricken parents in Connecticut," said Kara Grubbs, the mother of three children, ages 5-12.
"I think Forest Hills is as safe a school as there is, and they're doing all they can, but as a parent you're constantly thinking more must be done, especially after Friday's tragedy."
At the end of the service, the Rev. Andy Keyse, of Trinity Episcopal Church in Florence, prayed for the safety of school children everywhere.
He asked God to comfort "parents trying to cope with such unbearable grief."
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings continued to be the topic of conversation Monday throughout Shoals area schools.
The tragedy in Newtown left 26 dead, making it the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, five years after a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus left 33 people dead.
The questions surrounding why the identified shooter, Adam Lanza, targeted such young children remained unanswered Monday. However, Connecticut state police said their investigation continues to produce information that will shed light in the coming days. Lanza killed his mother and himself as well as school employees, including teachers and the principal.
Local police authorities said no amount of training can prepare a school for every possible scenario of a school invasion like Friday's.
"You train and train, and the school is trained as well and we do drills, but when you have a person who decides to do something like this, you simply do the best you can," Tuscumbia Police Chief Tony Logan said.
Tuscumbia schools don't have police resource officers, but Logan said that's a goal of his. Still, he said, adding officers isn't the total answer to such a complex problem.
"There are cases when all you can do is minimize the amount of damage that can be done," he said.
At Lauderdale County schools, the largest system in the Shoals, one school resource officer travels among the schools.
Officer Jaye Slaton said he works closely with principals on safety issues, and every school has hall monitors and is equipped with camera systems.
"It's helpful that in Rogersville, Lexington and Killen there are local police agencies that are at the schools throughout the day. We also have patrol officers riding through the schools daily in marked and unmarked cars," Slaton said.
Florence is the only system in the Shoals that has a school resource officer at every school.
Russellville Schools Superintendent Rex Mayfield said his district was already considering adding another police officer, which would mean an officer per school.
"I think we're looking at that possibility more strongly now," he said. "As an additional general safety measure, we're also looking at adding a fourth school nurse."
Ironically, the Russellville school system in the past year added cameras in the elementary schools. They also installed a new phone system so that every teacher has phone communication from the classroom.
Muscle Shoals Schools Superintendent Jeff Wooten said conversation all day Monday never strayed from the Connecticut shootings and how local schools can be made safer.
"We've been taking extra safety measures and we're in the process of having an outside expert come in and evaluate our plans," Wooten said.
"What happened in Connecticut couldn't have been prepared for. We've added additional cameras at our schools, but we still have to wonder what we can be doing better. The frustrating thing is that you really can't have a perfect plan for every situation. We have to do the best we can, and my hope would be that teachers everywhere would be as passionate about saving children as those teachers in that school. They are true heroes."
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.
TimesDaily senior staff writer Tom Smith contributed to this report.