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Staff photo, Shea Johnson
Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Matt Haefele stands guard near the front of Henderson Elementary on Thursday while a young student looks on through a chain-linked fence.

Army reservist stands watch at Henderson

Daughter is student at elementary school

Staff Writer

BARSTOW • Matt Haefele, 28, peered stoically ahead at the grounds in front of Henderson Elementary, auditing anything that moved while he stood perfectly still.

Undeterred by Thursday’s chilly temperatures, the unarmed U.S. Army Reserve staff sergeant volunteered to watch over the school all day, hopeful the fatigues he wore would be enough to discourage anyone who meant harm.

Haefele, an army reservist of six years, was moved by the events that transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Understandably, he was also shaken. His daughter is 5-year-old Jozlyn Haefele, a student at Henderson in Mrs. Najera’s kindergarten class.

“All the chaos in the world right now, all the shootings and everything,” he explained, “it makes me nervous.”

On that horrific morning in Newton, Conn., 27 people lost their lives — 20 of whom were children ages 6 to 7 — when an armed gunman stormed through hallways and classrooms, opening fire on anyone in sight.

Haefele, who also served four years in the Marines, arrived at the school at 8 a.m. His former P.E. teacher, Jeff Malan, now the Barstow Unified School District superintendent, stopped by later in the morning to speak with him.

Just after 11 a.m., Barstow Police Officer Scott Johnston parked his patrol car near the front of the school and walked through the outside halls and cafeteria before having a brief conversation with Principal Michele Enriquez.

Enriquez said police presence at her school has risen in wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, with officers stopping by twice a day. Prior to the last week, Henderson had two SRO officers on call, at any given time, in case of an emergency.

“I think we’re more aware and alert about our surroundings now,” she said.

Enriquez spends half of the day going up and down the halls. All classrooms are now locked, empty or not, and the school district might follow Henderson’s lead by implementing peepholes in all of its school’s doors — something Enriquez says they’ve had for some time.

She said the school will reach out to parents to try to involve them more with regard to safety and was happy to have one of them standing watch all day.

“We are just so blessed and so touched that a parent would want to come in and volunteer their time like that,” she said.

Haefele is one of at least a few current, or former, military personnel in the country to guard an elementary school since last Friday. In Nashville, Marine Staff Sgt. Jordan Pritchard stood watch outside Gower Elementary. In Northern California, former Marine Craig Pusely protected Hughson Elementary.

Posting a soldier at every school in the U.S. may not be a plausible solution to school-safety threats long-term, but until the country decides how to handle the aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy, it might help the healing process.

“I wanted to come here and make sure everybody gets home safe,” Haefele said, “and, has a good Christmas.”

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