Perspectives

Calm, Cool, Collected

Real-life heroes recall tragedy in San Bernardino school

Joyella Beuler doesn’t consider herself a hero. She just did what she had to do, says the San Bernardino Teachers Association (SBTA) member. In this case, it was saving a child’s life in April after a shooting at North Park School. Student Nolan Brandy, 8 at the time, was wounded after a gunman opened fire, killing his estranged wife, Karen Smith, Nolan’s special education teacher. Another of Smith’s students, Jonathan Martinez, 8, was shot and killed. The gunman then killed himself. Beuler, a third-grade teacher who has been in the profession for a decade, thought the killer might still be on the loose when instructional aide Jennifer Downing came into the front office with eight other students — including Nolan — to tell her of the shooting. Beuler just happened to be in the office crunching numbers for the school plan when the violence occurred, and a sub was in her classroom. Beuler says the events of that day will be forever etched in her memory.

“At approximately 10:20 a.m. on April 10, 2017, a man entered the front office and signed in. He then left the office and went to Ms. Smith’s room. A few minutes later, Jennifer entered the front office and told us that a man was in the classroom and was shooting. She said that Nolan had been shot. He was right beside her, along with eight other students from that classroom.

“Darlene Peters (school secretary) and I immediately  closed the door and made sure both doors were locked. Nolan went to the floor. I looked in the cabinet and found gloves. I went into the small restroom in Darlene’s office and pulled out a huge stack of paper towels. Then I began applying pressure to the right side of Nolan’s stomach area. He was in such pain and moving around quite a bit.

“Darlene was on the floor next to her desk and dialed 911. She was describing everything I was doing to the 911 operator. I was talking to Nolan, trying to keep him conscious and calm. I told him he was a super hero. At one point, the operator asked Darlene if there was anything else I could add to the paper towels. Darlene directed Jennifer to grab her gym shirt from the gym bag in her office. I then put that on top of the paper towels. Also during this time, Darlene and I asked Jennifer to take the other students into the restroom and to be quiet as a mouse.”

“ I was talking to Nolan, trying to keep him conscious and calm. I told him he was a super hero.”

It seemed like an eternity until police arrived, but it was less than 10 minutes, recalls Beuler, a married mother of two and grandmother who served on the Yucaipa-Calimesa Joint Unified school board from 2003 to 2008.

“Two police officers knocked and yelled, ‘Police!’ After making sure that it was really the police, Darlene opened the door. We were told to hold our hands up, but I told the officer I couldn’t move my hands because I was holding pressure on Nolan’s gunshot wound. He quickly put gloves on and switched places with me. We also told the officers that there was an aide and eight other students in the tiny restroom. We were evacuated out of the front of the school. By then the rest of the school had evacuated. We were taken to Cajon High School and then Cal State University, San Bernardino, where four other students from Ms. Smith’s class joined us.

“Darlene, Jennifer and I stayed with Ms. Smith’s students until all of them were picked up by their parents. Jennifer and the other aide did a great job getting students to follow them out of that classroom. [The other aide took students to the computer lab and out to the playground.] I couldn’t have done what I did without Darlene. We made a terrific team.”

SBTA President Ashley Alcala observes that all the teachers who were involved in the traumatic events stayed calm and professional that day.

“They didn’t allow their emotions to get in the way,” says Alcala with pride. “They stayed that way, and when it was over, they let out a huge collective sigh of relief. And then we grieved the death of a colleague and a student. We will never forget them.” During the evacuation, Beuler was hoping and praying Nolan had survived.

“Not knowing was very difficult. Later that evening, I spoke to Rachel Brandy (Nolan’s mom) and found out that the bullet struck some major organs but that he was in stable condition. The next day, I was able to see him in the hospital and told the family what had happened in Darlene’s office.”

Rachel Brandy, president of the school site council, says Beuler is indeed a hero. “What can I say? There can be nothing greater than saving my child’s life.”

The school closed for a week. Staff met with the district’s crisis team before it reopened, and the team and school counselors have maintained a presence. On the first day back, there was lots of hugging and crying. The  students, who are mostly low-income and live in a high-crime area, have experienced many traumas in their lives, say teachers, but are proving to be resilient.

“ It was difficult to go back. But I felt I needed to show my students and myself that I wasn’t afraid.”

After the ordeal, Beuler made trophies for the students in Smith’s class and the aides with the words “Super Hero” on them.

“It was difficult to go back,” says Beuler. “But I felt I needed to show my students and myself that I wasn’t afraid. We will continue to heal. Since the tragedy, the entire North Park community has become closer. This event made us realize how much we care about each other. I believe that God put me there for a reason, and I feel good about what I did. I’m also thankful Darlene and I have each other to lean on when we need to.”

Despite an upswing in school shootings — and a mass shooting in San Bernardino two years ago — Beuler says she always felt extremely safe at her school. She is now much more cognizant of her surroundings and has a renewed appreciation for life.

“One of the things I learned is that schools need to be proactive,” she says. “Schools need to practice safety procedures on a regular basis. Communications and teamwork are key. Everyone here did a phenomenal job following emergency procedures for evacuating. The North Park staff are awesome role models for our students. I’m proud to be part of this school.”


Tips to Survive a School Shooting

  • Prepare and plan what you would do if an armed attacker is on your campus.
  • Try and exit, if possible. If you know the shooter is in another area of the building, try to evacuate your students to a safe area.
  • If you can’t exit, hide. Barricade your door with chairs, desks, sofas, etc. The bigger the barricade, the more likely a shooter is to move on to an easier target.
  • Use a landline to call 911, if possible. In case the call is interrupted, the address will appear to the dispatcher.
  • Silence your cellphone. It can give your location away.

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