Belen Schools, police meet with Homeland Security about active shooter scenarios

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An official with the New Mexico Department of Homeland Security met with Belen Middle School leadership recently in an effort to get everyone on the same page in case of an emergency situation.

Dennis Pepe, critical infrastructure coordinator for the state Department of Homeland Security, met with school security about adding six interior surveillance cameras to the school site.

Another assessment is expected to be conducted by January.

Earlier this fall, officials from the state and U.S. Department of Homeland Security met with the Belen Police Department and middle school security to help prevent an active shooter situation.

Both meetings came after four Belen Middle School students were arrested in October for their alleged roles in a group that made threats to "shoot up" the school, according to police.

Glenda Chavez, emergency management coordinator for Valencia County, and Belen Police Chief Dan Robb were among those who attended the previous meeting.

The students, Kahleb Lucero and Mateo Jaquez, both 13, were arrested and charged with assault and interfering with the educational process.

They were taken into custody a day after two other students, Lawrence Chavez, 13, and Alejandro Ortega, 14, were arrested and charged with interfering with the educational process.

Forty-three percent of the students did not attend classes at the middle school the next day, according to Belen Schools Superintendent Ron Marquez.

All four students were expelled indefinitely and can no longer enroll in the Belen school system.

"(The students) not only posed a threat, they interrupted the educational process," Marquez said.

Robb said the police department is as prepared as they can be and officers have had active shooter training.

In the previous meeting, school resource officer Mike Esquibel said police officers weren't prepared for an active shooter situation.

"Ultimately, is anybody ever prepared for an active shooter?" said Robb. "We are prepared with what we are capable of being prepared for."

Jeff Murray, protective security advisor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said a walkthrough with school leadership is an important step in getting each entity to work together.

The Belen Police Department received a packet with satellite maps of the premises to help prepare for a plan of action.

Murray said the fact that Belen Middle School has cameras would only help to a certain extent and that the police and school staff must be organized. He said the two parties need to communicate to track students to eventually reunite them with their parents.

A.J. Lehocky, an APS school resource officer, said an active shooter situation could last for only about five minutes.

"There's a misconception that police are going to get there and that they are going to handle it," Lehocky said. "We are going to get there after the fact. The first responders are the school staff."

Lehocky is an instructor in the state that helps teach training to school officials in the event of an active shooter situation where a particular school happens to be locked down.

He said most students who plan a similar attack are looking to create "collateral damage" rather than to harm a few individuals.

The school resource officer said he often does exercises where he uses the code of yellow to let students know to be in a state of awareness of suspicious activity.

Belen Police Detective Sgt. Joe Portio said every threat should be taken seriously. He said police couldn't find any proof that the suspects wrote anything down about any plans to shoot anyone at the school.

"They could have been empty threats," Portio said. "But you never know."


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