(NEW YORK) — Two protective fathers on opposite sides of the country donned their uniforms — one military, one police — for off-duty appearances as they accompanied their children to school and stood guard outside the school building this week to help them and other students feel safe.
Maryland police officer Frankie Stephens, 30, decided on Monday that he would accompany his daughter on her first day back at school since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six staff members were fatally gunned down last Friday.
Monday was Stephens’ day off, and, dressed in his Cecil County Sheriff’s Office uniform, he drove his daughter, 7-year-old Ava Stephens, to Perryville Elementary School in his patrol car.
“Initially, he planned to go and hang out in the parking lot for a little bit, but he decided to hang out and go in at lunchtime and so he had lunch with the first- and second-graders,” Stephens’ wife, Christie Stephens, said.
“We felt completely helpless when we heard about what had happened [in Connecticut], and here we are sending our kids back to school two days later. He wanted her to get there safely, so he went and he gave his business card to her teacher and the principal. It made us feel better,” Christie Stephens added.
Ava and her two sisters, who do not go to the school, were aware of the shooting in Connecticut, their mother said, and were somewhat frightened about returning to school. Christie Stephens said she thought that having her daughter, her classmates and the teachers at school interact with a local police officer, who was also a “nice guy and a dad,” might help everyone feel better.
Christie Stephens said she is sure her husband will drop by the school for lunch again.
On the other side of the country, former Marine Sgt. Craig Pusley stood outside Hughson Elementary School in Hughson, Calif., in his Marine uniform Wednesday morning.
Pusley told ABC News affiliate KXTV that his actions were a direct result of the school shooting in Newtown.
“I’m part of a Marine Corps fraternity, and I started noticing online postings that if Marines stood in front of schools, we never would have had the Connecticut problem,” Pusley told KXTV.
Hughson Elementary School Principal Laura Fong said, “He approached me and asked me if it would be OK if he stood in front of our flag pole this morning to make sure our parents and kids felt safe today as they arrived on our campus.”
“There’s no policy for something like this, but I didn’t see why he couldn’t stand in front and keep us safe,” she told the station.
Pusley, who served tours in Iraq and Afghanistan while in the Marine Corps, said he hopes other Marines will follow his lead.
“Whether you’re on active duty or not, this is an opportunity to stand up for what you believe in and show America this is what we do,” Pusley said.
He said he plans to continue standing guard in front of Hughson Elementary School for the next 30 days.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Kevin Conlon, Euan McKirdy and Johanzynn Gatewood, CNN
Jackie Wattles and Amanda Barnett, CNN
Susan Scutti, CNN
Dan Merica, CNN