There’s something new seen in the halls of Florida schools this year: guns out in the open.
Packing heat on the campus of the Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida, is Harold Verdecia, a 39-year-old former infantryman in the U.S. Army, who completed tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Armed with a Kel-Tec “Bullpup” rifle and a 9mm Glock 19X, Verdecia has been hired by the school with the sole responsibility of stopping an active shooter.
More than 2,000 students attend MSA, and Verdecia says he gets complimented frequently by many of them.
“They come and thank me all the time,” he said on a video posted by the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.
But he understands not everyone in the community is on board with his presence.
“So far it’s been like 90 percent all good. You have a few that don’t agree, but I would say 90 percent of the reaction has been like great,” he explained. “People are not used to seeing guns in school.”
On Valentine’s Day last year, 17 people were killed in Parkland, Florida, when a former student allegedly stormed the campus of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School and opened fire.
In the wake of the horror, state lawmakers approved a measure mandating all schools to have armed security.
Among those who don’t agree with the new approach is Walt Zalisko, a retired police chief who now owns a global investigative group and police management consulting business in Daytona Beach.
“You don’t walk around with an assault rifle strapped to your chest in a school. That is not the normal policy of police agencies,” Zalisko told the Herald-Tribune.
“His job is to protect the kids, and he can do that with a handgun, but it is also to form positive relationships,” he added. “Develop information on who may have drugs or weapons. There is a lot involved.”
Bill Jones, the principal at MSA, says despite a few objections, response has been overwhelmingly positive, and he’s even looking to hire another guardian.
“I wouldn’t hire anybody who hadn’t been shot at and fired back,” Jones told the paper. “I need someone who has been in that situation.”
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