Following weeks of altercations at area high schools ranging from a small fire to a stabbing, some parents and staff are questioning the Killeen Independent School District’s ability to rein in school violence.
After one chaotic day at Ellison High School, on Aug. 27, which included a morning evacuation sparked by a bathroom fire and an afternoon lockdown caused by a rumored weapon on campus, Killeen ISD substitute teacher Carlina Ibrahim decided to take a break from substitute teaching at the high school.
“I haven’t been back since,” Ibrahim said. “It was a long day.”
The incidents of Aug. 27 were not the first violent KISD incidents to gain news coverage this school year.
But the problem may not be as bad as it seems, according to KISD.
KISD spokeswoman Taina Maya said Friday the district has seen a decrease in assaults this school year.
“There have been 16 total assaults this school year, a slight decline compared to 17 assaults in the first five weeks of the 2019 school year,” Maya said.
“Additionally, in 2019 there were three reports of terroristic threats in the first five weeks, compared to the one we’ve had this school year.”
The district has held 66 fighting/mutual combat hearings this school year, Maya said, according to the district’s hearing officer.
Killeen Police Department Sgt. Neal Holtzclaw mentioned three KISD high schools when he spoke to the Herald last week about increasing gang violence in the wake of three gang-related homicides this month.
Two separate gang-related North Killeen homicides on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7 killed two area teenagers who lived within three blocks of each other.
“These gangs start when a group of kids get together and form cliques, and then give themselves a name,” Holtzclaw said. “They start hanging out in certain territories. The high schools are used to define these zones, whether it’s Shoemaker, Ellison or Killeen High School. Territorial disputes happen when one group decides they’re the biggest and ‘baddest.’”
Holtzclaw said he has encountered children as young as 13 or 14 who are involved with gangs, but said the typical age range for gang members in Killeen is 15 to 24 years old.
“It will start escalating into violence,” he said. “It might start with a fist fight at school and then later, more violent acts likely will be committed with weapons.”
Killeen Police Department Chief Charles Kimble held a press conference Sept. 13 about local violence and named the Young Paper Chasers, K-Town Mafia, and Stretch as three local gangs possibly behind the string of recent homicides.
Killeen Police Department spokeswoman Ofelia Miramontez said KPD and KISD Police Department continue to “work closely together on a daily basis to include school staff and administration” on a number of matters including identifying suspected student gang members.
The following is a timeline of reported incidents at KISD schools this year.
- Aug. 20: A KISD police officer was hospitalized following an alleged assault by a 15-year-old student at Shoemaker High School.
- Aug. 27: Fire evacuation, fight, and a rumored weapon lockdown at Ellison High School.
- Sept. 14: Two students at Live Oak Ridge Middle School were arrested for having a weapon on campus.
- Sept. 15: A 16-year-old student allegedly stabbed another student in the Shoemaker High School parking lot. At Cavazos Elementary School, a third-grade student brought ammunition to school and distributed it among classmates.
Parents of KISD students have come forward in recent weeks advocating for increased safety measures for their children following recent events.
Robert Nolin, father of three KISD students, told the Herald the recent wave of school violence has left him uneasy about his sons’ safety at their respective schools.
“Week before last, a kid got caught with a gun at Live Oak Ridge Middle School,” Nolin recounted. “And there’s been a lot of violence at Shoemaker High School where one incident had a child get stabbed.”
Nolin has sons attending both Live Oak Ridge Middle School and Shoemaker High School.
“Ever since all this stuff started in the public schools, I got my kids cellphones,” Nolin said. “I told them to not take them out in school, but keep them on so if something happens and you need me you can call me.”
But the cellphone caused another problem at school, Nolin said, because his son isn’t allowed to have the phone in class at Live Oak due to school policy.
“I went up there (to Live Oak) trying to plead my case and they just told me, ‘The rules are the rules,’” he said. “I told them the rules are also that you don’t bring guns to school but that’s obviously happening. I fear for my kid. I believe the least y’all could do is let our kids carry cellphones so at least we can know when something goes on. The other day when that kid got stabbed it was a couple hours before they were going to be ready to notify the parents. The way the parents found out was a cellphone video from somebody else. And that’s ridiculous.”
Elena Crespo, mother of a Shoemaker High freshman, said her daughter was hit in the head as she tried to run away from a large group of students running towards a fight the second week of school.
Crespo said her daughter has a nerve condition that causes her to pass out, making stressful situations often dangerously worse.
“It’s just been kind of difficult all around,” she said. “She loves band. She loves her friends. She loves the things they’re supposed to love, but she’s also had four episodes this year where she’s passed out because of her nerve condition. All of it has been brought on by the stress and anxiety she’s had there.”
To put it in perspective, Crespo said her daughter had two episodes during her entire school year at Audie Murphy Middle School.
“She moved to Shoemaker High School, it’s been five weeks and she’s already had four (episodes),” she said.
Crespo said the district may need to add additional police officers at the campuses if the school violence continues.
Luna Miller, a 2020 graduate of Harker Heights High School, told the Herald KISD high schools have had a reputation for violence for years.
“I’ve had friends get jumped at school,” Miller said. “Similar things that happened at Ellison have happened at Harker Heights. It happens at all of the high schools. It’s just I guess a lot of the students are just desensitized to it, because you have to be, because nothing gets done about it. We just think, ‘Oh, it’s another day at school.’”
Over the summer, the KISD school board considered a crime committee partnership with other local agencies, including the Killeen City Council.
Maya said Friday the district will bring the crime committee item forward to the school board in October.
When asked if the district has seen an uptick in school violence, KISD Police Chief Ralph Disher said, “In looking at the first five weeks of school and comparing stats, they are similar to the 2019-2020 school year.”
The Herald asked KISD about the district’s use of metal detectors following reports the machines are rarely used.
Disher confirmed the district has metal detectors at each high school and added they are not used on a daily basis.
“They are implemented randomly at the administration’s discretion, and we also work with our safety department to research possible alternatives in the future,” he said.
KISD PD employs a total of 27 officers, according to the district, and one K9.
“We are in the process of transitioning some night shift officers to days so we can include an additional officer at each campus,” he said. “In addition, we work on having an increased patrol presence on campus during peak periods of the day to include mornings, lunch and dismissal. Given the different dynamic of the school year and some of the student population not being face-to-face for 18 months this will assist us moving forward for the rest of the year as students settle into a normal school year.”
Disher said KISD PD is “committed to ensuring our students, staff and parents feel safe at all of our campuses.”
“We use a multitude of resources to monitor gang activity throughout the community and how that may impact our campuses,” he said. “We work closely with our law enforcement partners to share information and work to educate our campus staff on what to look for with their students and share that information with their campus officers. We ask that our parents keep open lines of communication with their children and report any suspicious activity or information to our department. We would also like them to instill in their children to say something when they see something and know that we will do everything possible to provide for their safety each day.”
Chief Disher has been with the district since 2018.
Maya said KISD PD is working closely with community organizations to support and guide the district’s youth.
“The future of our youth is a joint responsibility, and Killeen ISD is prepared to join forces to ensure schools and neighborhoods are safe environments for our children and employees,” she said.
To report a threat or incident to KISD, go to kisdissafe.com.
Herald correspondent Emily Hilley-Sierzchula contributed to this report.