My Traumatic Event
This occured in 1995, at the Pupil Referral Unit in Merthyr Tydfil. I was teacher of the Junior Class of children with emotional and behaviour problems, and shared the building with a Senior class of Key Stage 3&4 children. It was lunchtime, and the children and some staff were present in the dining hall. A man, brandishing a shotgun, entered the hall from the playground, and the children and staff ran out of the hall as he fired his gun across the hall. We made our way to the far end of the building where we thought we could hide in the offices and have access to the phones to call for help. I hid the children in one office with two support staff, and the two remaining staff hid in another office with access to phones. I thought the intruder would be looking for us, so I barricaded the door with a filing cabinet, and told the children to get down on the floor and hide under furniture. I lay across our youngest pupil, a six year old, who was very frightened. I also closed the curtains in case the intruder looked through from outside. These were children with emotional and behaviour problems, some with ADHD, and I had to advise them that it was very important that they were silent and very still, we were all very very frightened.
There seemed an eternity of silence before the intruder set off the fire alarms by setting fire to the display boards in the corridor, and we could here him walking past the office and 'cocking' his gun. At this point I felt we were in serious danger, and I did fear for my life. The two members of staff who had hidden in the office next door, had managed to contact the
Police, and an armed response unit was already surrounding the building. Unknown to us, they had located the position of the intruder, and they were about to get us out of the building before disarming him. We heard a knock on the curtained window of the office, and it was the police telling us that we had to leave immediately. We were pulled out of the window, and guided via a line of armed police up a grass bank, to the street above the building.
We were taken to a school nearby, where an incident room was set up, and we were de-briefed. We were also informed that the police had dis-armed the intruder, and found that he also had a long knife on his person, which was very shocking information for us.
When all involved in this event had been de-briefed, it was agreed that we should return to the Unit, where we were joined by pupils and staff who had been out of the building for lunch. It was thought that it was important that the children involved had the opportunity to talk over the event, amongst themselves and with staff. We felt we should establish some semblance of routine for them asap. Their parents/carers were phoned by staff to explain events, as by now the incident was being reported in the News, and reporters were arriving at the gates. After the children had been taken home, the staff contacted their own families, and in my case, I was anxious to meet my eight year old daughter from a local school, to reassure her, as the news of this incident had reached all schools in the area by then. The staff at her school had heard of the incident, but luckily the children were not aware, so I picked her up as usual, and carried on as if nothing had happened. This was March 31st, so that evening was dressing up and 'trick or treat' for my daughter, and being the Single Parent, it was necessary for me to 'sit on' the events of the day, and just make the occasional thumbs-up gesture to other parents enquiring if I was okay. I didn't want my daughter to suffer any anxiety for me, so I kept a lid on all emotions until she went to bed, and I sat in the garden for hours and cried.
That evening I had a phone call from our Senior Educational Psychologist saying that the children would stay home the following morning, and the staff would meet with our team of psychologists to talk about the event. The next day I met with my colleagues and the support team, and we also discussed how best to move forward with our pupils. It was agreed that we would visit our individual pupils in their homes that afternoon and talk through the events of the previous day.
In the days following the incident, the police gave us information about the intruder, and it was very clear that he had serious mental health issues, and he was intent on causing harm.
Months after the event, the South Wales police awarded the staff with bravery awards at a ceremony held in the Mayor's Parlour, to which family were also invited.