PHOTO GALLERY | ‘I’m Going Back to School’: Westmont Students Call Alleged Shooting Plot ‘A Disclosure’, Call for Tightened Security | News


JOHNSTOWN, PA – When Shannen Mullen, senior at Westmont Hilltop High School, discovered law enforcement discovered an alleged school shooting plot targeting the high school, she was shocked.

“I couldn’t believe this happened at Westmont,” said the 18-year-old.

Landon Miller, a junior, and Sydney Mize in second year were equally surprised when they learned the details of the event.

Authorities say Westmont student Preston R. Hinebaugh left Conemaugh Township area student Logan J. Pringle – who was expelled from Westmont for previous behavioral issues – in the building on December 7.

The students said they thought the act was a prank.

Miller, 16, recalled attending a convention Thursday when district officials reminded students of the importance of school safety.

He learned on Saturday that police were reporting retrieving weapons from Hinebaugh’s home. Several of the guns were secretly stored in his room, police said.

“It was definitely an eye opener,” he said of the situation.

The incident also struck near his home for him.

Miller knows one of the students in detention because he is part of his Boy Scout troop.

The student was recently at Miller’s house.

“It was scary,” he said upon hearing the news. “It was downright terrifying. It didn’t seem real.

Call for a “police presence”

Mize, 16, discovered the seriousness of the incident when her mother sent a group message to the whole family alerting them to the news.

“I don’t think any of the students realized this was a real threat,” she said.

Knowing that there was a security breach that could have led to a devastating event, she wanted to regain control, so Mize launched a petition – which had garnered nearly 1,900 signatures on Tuesday – asking that the district school hires a school resource officer or school police officer.

“After the recent news regarding the entry of students into the Westmont School building, I think we can all agree that the presence of the police at the school should be a priority,” she wrote. “The administration needs the help of a school resource manager. By signing this, you will be asking the school to hire one to protect students every day.

District leaders plan to hire a FS as soon as possible, but no later than the end of January.

By then, an Upper Yoder police officer is on campus until at least December 23. They are in talks to possibly extend this until January, if necessary.

The first people Mize sent the petition to were Mullen and his sister, before posting it on Facebook.

“It just exploded after that,” she said.

Miller added that the online document was shared among many student groups.

“It really showed how the community has come together,” he said.

School support system

The three students agreed that a police presence at a school is a good idea – but praised the administration for responding quickly and effectively to what could have been a dangerous situation.

None of them felt they couldn’t return to class on Monday.

“I sat down with my family and said, ‘I’m going back to school,’ Miller said.

Mize credited the school district’s transparency as the reason she felt safe coming back.

She is also impressed with the security measures implemented this week, such as the officer’s presence on campus.

Since news of the alleged plot first broke, students say, the teachers at Westmont have been very helpful.

Miller said each teacher asked the class if they had any questions about what had happened and reminded them that counselors were available.

“They obviously care,” Mullen said.

Going forward, Superintendent Thomas Mitchell said Westmont is committed to providing mental health services and strengthening the district’s emergency operations plan, as well as the mass notification system and the Safe2Say resource.

He said he met with Gittings Protective Security Inc. on Monday – the district has a threat preparedness consultancy contract with the company – to review the school’s response to the security breach.

Mitchell said talking about the details of the event was difficult and surreal.

“It hurts,” he said.

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5054. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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