RIGBY – It was a day like any other as the first-period bell rang at Rigby Middle School Thursday morning. Less than an hour later, students and faculty were shocked to hear gunshots in the hallway.
A female sixth-grade student pulled a handgun out of her backpack and fired multiple rounds, injuring two students and a custodian, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Steve Anderson.
As the situation began to unravel, police were alerted and parents were notified. Students were evacuated to the high school next door as parents waited outside. After several hours, many parents wept for joy as they were reunited with their children.
As many parents expressed that day, school shootings are not the kind of thing that happens in Rigby and they never imagined something like this would ever happen in their community. In the aftermath, they’re grateful the victims are going to recover and they’re glad police were able to keep their children safe during such a traumatic event.
Law Enforcement Chaplains Christa Trinchera and Pam Inman assisted authorities in the response. Trinchera tells EastIdahoNews.com she’s impressed with the way law enforcement worked together in handling such a large-scale event.
“The thing that stood out the most to us was how incredibly this was handled. These agencies did such a phenomenal job. They obviously have trained for this and they had a plan ready to go,” Trinchera says.
Trinchera has worked as a chaplain during similar events in bigger cities like Sacramento, California and she says the response to Thursday’s shooting played out much better than she’s seen in other places.
“There would’ve been chaos (in other places I’ve been). There would’ve been media vans everywhere, helicopters overhead and a lot of unsettled emotion,” says Trinchera. “There was an incredible sense of calm and everyone worked together. We were so impressed with these agencies and how the community reacted.”
‘This makes everything better’
Trinchera is also impressed with the K9 dog who helped comfort students during the ordeal.
She and Inman arrived at Rigby High School around 10:30 a.m. with Trixie, a border collie/Australian Shepherd mix who’s trained to help people in traumatic situations.
Inman recalls walking into the high school gymnasium with Trixie and being surrounded by hundreds of students.
“She just laid down on the floor and everybody started loving on her. It started to change the mood of the room from that intensity to having a loveable furry thing to focus on. One wave would get up and another wave would come and another 15 kids would be on the floor with her. I thought it was a really big help,” Inman says.
Students weren’t the only ones who benefitted from Trixie’s presence. One of the highlights of the day for Trinchera was finding a faculty member who was sad that she couldn’t hug her dog at home.
When they were able to locate her, Trinchera says the faculty member’s reaction to Trixie was heartwarming.
“She sat down on the floor and said ‘This makes everything better. I just needed to hug my dog and I couldn’t go home. Having Trixie here makes me feel so much better,'” the teacher said, according to Trinchera.
Inman got Trixie from an animal shelter about a year and a half ago. Though Inman constantly works with her to prepare for events like this, Inman says Thursday’s shooting was Trixie’s first opportunity to put her training into practice and she’s proud of her performance.
After two and a half hours of cheering kids up, Inman says Trixie was wiped out.
“She was almost on an adrenaline rush,” says Inman. “I’ve never taken her to Rigby before and so I expected her to konk out (on the way home), and she was up looking out the window, taking it all in. She went home and took a well-deserved nap.”
Making a difference for those affected
There was also a tremendous response from the community on Thursday.
Individuals and businesses donated water bottles and snacks for the students during the lockdown. Kimber Tower, Executive Director of the Upper Valley Child Advocacy Center in Rigby, which helped distribute it, says they collected an “insane” amount of items.
“There was a point where we were running out and the community caught up with us really quickly,” Tower says. “We’re still trying to input all the data, but I’m guessing it was thousands and thousands of bottles of water.”
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Several days after the shooting, aid from people throughout eastern Idaho has continued to pour in. GoFundMe accounts organized on behalf of the victims are getting lots of support. Multiple counseling centers in Rigby have offered free counseling services for anyone who feels traumatized by what happened.
After meeting with teachers Saturday, Tower says there is still more people can do to help. They are requesting weighted and regular blankets to give to students, along with journals to help them process what’s happened. Those wanting to provide these items can drop them off at the center at 162 North Yellowstone Highway.
But in the wake of the shooting, Tower says there may likely be a long-term impact that no one can anticipate right now. Being prepared to deal with that is Tower’s biggest priority.
“For us, it’s about that teacher that’s going to have something (trigger that trauma for them) in a year. It’s about those kids who have to go back to school day after day and process what happened. One of the first things we did is have a conversation with Victim’s Compensation in Boise,” says Tower.
The state’s Crime Victims Compensation Program provides assistance to people recovering from the traumatic effects of a crime with a variety of services. Tower says the victims, in this case, include every student, not just those who were injured. It also includes teachers, parents, first responders and anyone else who was present that day.
She and her team are working to secure grant funding from this program to provide long-term mental health services for anyone who needs it.
“Every person who was there deserves to qualify for victim’s compensation funding,” Tower says. “Idaho’s never (experienced anything like this before), so we’re figuring it out now. We want to make sure we’re communicating to the state of Idaho and the federal government that the impact of this is massive. We want to take care of everyone because we want everyone to heal and we don’t want this to happen again.”
Those interested in qualifying for these services must fill out a form to apply. More information will be provided during a meeting at Harwood Elementary Monday at 6 p.m. You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com to learn more.