An assailant has been charged, and a coordinated safety plan has been credited with saving students’ lives at a Jewish school in Memphis, Tennessee.
Local law enforcement announced charges on Wednesday night against a suspect over an attempted shooting at the Margolin Hebrew Academy. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said they have charged a 33-year-old man from Stanton, Tennessee, with five different charges related to the attack on the school and later shootout with police that left him hospitalized. Memphis Police and the Secure Community Network (SCN), which helped stop the attack and catch the suspect, touted the security measures at the school for effectively stopping whatever the gunman had planned.
“The suspect did try to enter the building armed with a gun,” Memphis Police Assistant Chief Don Crowe said during a Monday press conference. “When he could not gain entry, he fired shots outside the school. Thankfully that school had a great safety procedure and process in place and avoided anyone being harmed or injured at the scene.”
“We are grateful that everyone is safe and the offender is no longer a threat to the community,” Amanda Braswell, SCN’s Regional Security Director, said in a statement on Wednesday. “This resolution was not an accident or luck, but the result of a highly coordinated, comprehensive, best practice security effort that we have been working toward since the Memphis Jewish Federation and Secure Community Network (SCN) first partnered in 2018.”
The successful defense of the school saved an untold number of children and provided a potential framework for thwarting other attacks on sensitive locations. While no single plan can hope to prevent all attacks, the security plan employed by the academy, SCN, and local law enforcement could serve as a viable strategy for other schools to replicate. Introducing a comprehensive security plan at more locations may help reduce the frequency and severity of targeted violence that has plagued American society in recent decades.
“Monday was a tough day,” Braswell said. “What we hoped would never happen happened. The thing that only happens to other people, not us. The thing that no community wants to imagine in their own back yard. But our community was ready. Margolin Hebrew Academy was ready. This is the very scenario that we, as Memphis Jewish Federation and all of our Jewish organizations plan and prepare for every single day. Our constant work toward making this community safe and secure paid off on Monday.”
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation charged the suspect with a slew of crimes, including reckless endangerment, assault against a first responder, and criminal attempted second-degree murder. However, the agency said it couldn’t disclose further details of how the school successfully prevented the attack as of Thursday.
“We don’t have any further detail to provide,” Josh Devine, the bureau’s communications director, told The Reload. “Our investigation is still ongoing.”
Braswell’s statement does provide further details on how the Margolin Hebrew Academy prevented the armed suspect from getting near students.
“Our success in mitigating the situation is a testament to the coordinated model that SCN has implemented through our Federation and dozens of other Federations across the country,” she said. “This includes information-sharing, training, facility assessments, grant assistance and the availability of a 24/7 national Jewish Security Operations Command Center. Every Jewish organization in our community receives support specific to their particular needs. In the case of the Margolin Hebrew Academy, this has included ongoing security training for school staff and students, providing regular assessments of the property and its security measures, working with security vendors to maximize use of on-site platforms, and working with them to secure local, state and national grant funding,”
The security measures prevented the attacker from getting to where staff and children were located, even though pictures from the school show he got through at least one door. Those pictures were sent along to police, which helped them to confront and capture the suspect after a shootout. And the threat was neutralized within an hour of first showing up at the school.
“We can not thank the people from Hebrew Academy enough for their vigilance and for their ability to get information to us,” Assistant Chief Crowe said. “They were able to provide us with a photograph of a suspect. They also provided us with a vehicle description that the suspect left [the scene in].”
While much of the heightened security around Jewish schools and institutions is due to disproportionate targeting of them for violence motivated by antisemitism, Braswell said Monday’s incident was likely not motivated by religious bigotry.
She said the foiling of the attack is proof SCN’s methods are sound, and the group is prepared for future threats.
“While we will not choose the time and place of the next incident, we can be prepared and have strong protocols in place,” Braswell said. “Our community was tested this week and our preparation and hard work paid dividends.”
Memphis Police said the hardening of the school, combined with effective coordination between the school, SCN, and law enforcement, was crucial for protecting students from a potential mass shooting.
“I personally truly believed that we have avoided a tragedy,” Crowe said. “I think this suspect was going to harm somebody before the day was over and that our officers were able to intervene and protect the citizens.”