Eyewitness News at 6, 12-17-12

6:59 PM, Dec 17, 2012   |    comments
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A community overwhelmed, pours out its grief at a memorial for 20 children gone too soon... and seven adults lost in Friday's shooting.

Good evening and thanks for joining us.

I'm Leah Johnson.

And I'm Frank Malloy.

The U-S Senate observed a moment of silence this afternoon for the victims of Friday's mass shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut.

Twenty children... six educators and the gunman's mother was killed.

The rampage ended when the gunman fatally shot himself.


The House also plans to hold a moment of silence tonight.

The tributes come as lawmakers prepare for what could be a new gun control debate.

Meanwhile... There's more information about Adam Lanza, the 20 year old accused in the killing.

A mediator who worked with Adam Lanza's parents during their divorce in 2009 says.... his mother said she didn't like to leave him alone.

The woman says she never met Lanza herself... but that his parents mentioned he had been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, an autism-like disorder...

and talked about ways they met his special needs.

As we mentioned, the Newtown killing spree has once again put debate over gun control back on the front burner.

And that debate may center on a single weapon.

That's the Bushmaster Ar-15....the rifle reportedly used by Adam Lanza last Friday.

USA Today reports that the 223-caliber rifle has a deadly history.

James Holmes used an AR 15 when he killed a dozen people at a movie screening in Colorado back in June.

And two men who terrorized the Washington D-C area a dozen years ago...the so-called DC Snipers....also used it.

So what is the AR-15?

USA Today reports that it's a semi-automatic weapon...designed to fire lots of bullets quickly. Semi-automatic means you have to pull the trigger for each shot.

It's basically a civilian version of the military MR-16.

And the Connecticut State Police says Adam Lanza used "multiple" 30-round rifle magazines in the attack.

Gun control advocates say the AR-15's rapid-fire capability....is why the weapon should be banned.

A spokesman for the Brady Center in Washington D-C told usa today....

"They have the capacity to massacre large numbers of human beings in a short amount of time.

There is little or no use for these weapons for people who want to use them for self-protection or sport."

USA Today says they contacted the National Rifle Association....the National Shooting Sports Foundation....and Bushmaster Firearms International itself for comment. They did not return phone calls.

Today... We asked in our 13WMAZ web poll...should there be greater restrictions on owning rapid-fire firearms?

52 percent of you say yes...48 percent say no.

To vote now... Visit 13WMAZ.com.

Look for the question on the right side of the homepage.

While the gun control debate begins to polarize some in Washington... Others focus on mental health care as a key area for change.

As we mentioned...a family mediator says Adam Lanza had significant difficulties.. .and that his parents supervised him closely.

So as a mom or dad... what resources are available for children and teens struggling with mental or emotional issues?

Shannon Terrell Harvey - C-E-O of Rivers Edge Behavioral Health-- is in our studio with answers...

Warning signs?

How do you talk to your child about what they're going through or do you leave it up to experts?


What if there's a lack of money?

Do a lot of parents choose to ignore signs of emotional or mental issues?

In light of the Newtown shooting... Bibb County schools and surrounding counties are taking a closer look at security measures and emergency plans.

Judy Le talked to nearly a dozen school districts about current building security measures...and improvements some plan to make.

The message from all the superintendents I received was universal -- to make sure students are safe. In Crawford County...drills will be postponed to lighten the stress among students and staff...In Bleckley there was an emphasis on locked doors and in Monroe...reminders were sent to check I.D badges.

Three months ago...the Bibb County school district reached out to Save Havens International...a Juliette-based organization...to comb through security policies. Director of Risk management ... David Gowan...says improvements will be implemented by the new year. The biggest change will be a new emergency response plan.

<I referenced code red, code yellow, code green, code blue. We are going to go to plain language in the new plan. Also these new administrative directives, those deal with controlling students, purposely controlling access into the schools and managing space. We've never had those elements in the current plan. Those will be added. Those administrative directives will not only be issued but they're going to be enforced>

Bibb schools already conduct monthly fire drills and two severe weather drills in nov and feb of each year...but Gowan says there's about to be more...

<We will be adding some additional drills such as reverse evacuation. We already do evacuation drills. We go a thousand feet for bomb threats or natural gas leaks. We would go 350 feet for a fire drill>

It all comes down to preparation...Michael Dorn...the executive director of Safe Havens International says Bibb County schools are going through a video training system.. like the one you see. Staff go through different crisis simulations and have to respond accordingly.

<That what they do in the first 30 seconds in a crisis is extremely important. We also want to empower our staff. So if we have a custodian or a food service employee for instance that actually see a fire in the building, we want them to feel empowered to pull that fire alarm themselves>

Frank, the idea is to expose the staff to different emergency scenarios so that if an actual crisis happens...they'll have experience in handling it.

Thanks Judy.

Just over an hour ago...Bibb County schools released a statement saying they're reminding principals to review school safety measures.

They include limiting access to the schools...locking off-limits parts of school...and increasing supervision of students during the school day.

Tomorrow....they say...principals are also expected to meet with staff to review the current safety levels....codes green...blue...yellow and red.

Macon will soon be getting a new school....with a big name attached to it. The Magic Johnson Bridgescape Learning Center is scheduled to open next month.

It's part of a private company that manages charter schools... But it's free for students.

Candace Adorka drove up to Atlanta to find out how this school will operate.

The Magic Johnson Bridgescape center is a far cry from the typical public high school.

<"Very different, the computer teaches you everything." >

At age 20, Jubriel Walker is getting a second chance to earn a high school diploma rather than a GED...

<"physical science part one">

and this time, he says the self-paced learning makes it easier.

<"You don't have to be with a lot of kids, classmates around you, so I think people focus better when they're by themselves.">

At most virtual high schools....students work alone...at home.

But Bridgescape students spend 4-hour shifts at the center, where experienced teachers like Jerald Robinson...

<"This is my 9th year of teaching, so I did my first 8 with public schools.">

...Can help fill in any gaps of understanding.

<"You have to have a little different strategy, probing for understanding, it's a different type of relationship you have to have with the kids.">

The flexibility of online learning, plus the focused attention of qualified teachers .....Director Monica Henson says that formula works for a broad range of students.

<"they might be in the 12th grade reading on a third grade level, and they might be heading to a university and taking advanced placement courses, and everything in between. But what they all have in common is that regular public school isn't working for them.">

< "This is where the Bridgescape center will be in Macon-an office complex off Northside drive. It's not part of the Bibb county school district, and Henson says there's room for both.">

<"Were not aggressively going out and recruiting kids away from the school district. We're simply saying here we are. This is what we do, and we are aggressively recruiting kids who already have dropped out. Who no longer belong to the school district, that haven't aged out of the system and need a high school diploma.">

The Bridgescape center gets state dollars for every student...but not local tax dollars. Public school districts get both. Henson says they cut out school district expenses like cafeterias, transportation, and lots of administrators. Instead they provide laptops, cheap internet, and bus vouchers for students who cant afford it-- plus paraprofessionals and assistance for teachers.

<"We have taken the idea of school we have pulled out the best things about it and really resourced and maximized those things, and that's how we're able to do it with a lot less money." >

Henson says the goal is to have 100 students enrolled in the first month, and maybe open more sites if there are enough students.

Candace Adorka 13 WMAZ eyewitness news.

Registration is now open for the Magic Johnson Bridgescape Center. To learn more, look for this story on our homepage 13wmaz.com

Thanks for joining us. We'll be back tonight at 11.

But remember... The news is always on at 13WMAZ.com.

The evening news is up next.

Have a safe night everyone.


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