MILTON-FREEWATER — As long as he’s been chief of the Milton-Freewater Unified School District, Rob Clark has been aware of a potential for violence here or in any similar farm town.

It was in 2011 that Rob Carter was shot and killed at his plumbing shop on the outskirts of Milton-Freewater. In 2013, Joyce Key was bound and beaten during a home invasion in her Umapine home; she died from her injuries six months later.

When Clark arrived as school superintendent in 2013, the community was watching the legal process for both cases, he said.

While those were not mass casualties like the recent school shooting in Florida, they are examples of violence that can be found in any community, especially one where guns are common.

“There are probably a lot of individuals here who own guns, and 99.9 percent of them are fine, law-abiding citizens who keep their guns in a safe,” Clark said.

The district is planning an active-shooter drill at Central Middle School on March 13 and a communitywide meeting about school safety on March 19.

Clark said he had friends working at Freeman High School near Spokane last September when a sophomore boy brought guns to the school, killing one student and sending three more to the hospital.

Thus while school safety has always been a priority for Clark, the killings at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School accelerated the need to map out a local course of action, he said.

“It’s been my plan to do a drill this year, but had Florida not happened, we wouldn’t be as open as we are about it,” Clark said.

In most cases, few details about school safety drills are released ahead of time to better mimic real-life situations, he explained. Now, however, public panic has to be avoided while school officials and students learn what works and what doesn’t.

Clark intends to invite some people to critique the exercise, and a dozen parents or so will be chosen to get the faux emergency call.

The parent factor is big, he pointed out. As he watched news footage showing Freeman families parking wherever they could to reach their children — some from a great distance away — it underscored the need for a formal family reunification policy in the case of emergencies.

“We’ll plan where they should come and that they need to bring identification,” he said. “We’re trying to see the best ways to keep our kids protected.”

Sheila Hagar can be reached at or 526-8322.

Sheila Hagar has written for the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin since 1998. Sheila covers education in the Walla Walla Valley. She also writes a column, Home Place, usually highlighting family life and slices of local life.