One of the most poignant moments of Tuesday's parent information meeting at Taft Union High School was when a school police officer tried to accept blame for a lack of security the day of a shooting on campus.
School Resource Officer Doug Hallmark, who lives in the mountains, was trapped at home Jan. 10 when the Grapevine was closed due to ice and snow. Unfortunately, that was the day 16-year-old Bryan Oliver is charged with bringing a shotgun to school and opening fire in a classroom, critically injuring a classmate. Oliver has pleaded not guilty.
At the meeting Tuesday night, one parent asked school administrators and police who substitutes for Hallmark on days when he can't make it to work. He is assigned to the school.
Hallmark, clearly feeling guilty, offered to answer the question, but instead of doing that he gave the audience a blow-by-blow account of his morning on Jan. 10.
The Grapevine was closed so he called in to work to say he would be late, he said. Then about an hour later he heard that the California Highway Patrol was allowing cars through with escorts, so he got in his car and got in line behind "about 300 other cars" that were barely moving, he said.
He was listening to KUZZ on the radio when he heard there had been a shooting at a school. His school. In Taft.
Hallmark was horrified and raced to the campus as soon as he was able to break free of the traffic. By the time he arrived, a campus supervisor and a teacher had already talked the shooting suspect into laying down his shotgun, Hallmark said.
His voice shook slightly as he tried to assure parents that he cares deeply for the children and should have been there.
"If you want to blame anyone, blame me," he said.
There was an immediate chorus of protests.
"No, no, nobody's blaming you!" one parent shouted.
"We love you!" another hollered. "That wasn't the question."
Taft Police Chief Ed Whiting finally stepped in to answer the question that actually had been asked. The only way to replace a school police officer who can't make it in would be to take a city police officer off patrol, he said. The school resource officer is a Taft Police Department officer.