By Rick Palsgrove
Things were a lot calmer at the Groveport Madison High School football game against Worthington Kilbourne on Sept. 2.
New security measures were in place in and around Cruiser Stadium after a shooting and fights occurred at the Cruisers’ Aug. 19 game against Canal Winchester High School. The shooter fired six shots from a Glock 10mm hand gun that was altered to make it fully automatic. Fortunately none of the bullets struck anyone.
“We believe the additional precautions taken this past Friday night (Sept. 2) for the football game were very effective,” said Groveport Madison Communications Director Jeff Warner. “We’ve received several positive comments from staff and guests who attended the game regarding its orderliness and positive atmosphere”
“Considering there were no violent incidents (at the Sept. 2 game) I’d say the security measures were effective,” said Groveport Police Lt. Josh Short. “I think the school district did a great job with its changes and how it pushed that information out to the community. The implementation was well done.”
On Aug. 29, a grand jury indicted James Keys, the alleged shooter at the Aug. 19 game, on three felony counts.
According to the Groveport Police, Keys was arraigned in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on Sept. 1 on grand jury indictments of felonious assault (a second degree felony), discharging a firearm on school grounds (a second degree felony), and tampering with evidence (a third degree felony). An additional federal firearms charge is pending.
After the indictments were handed down, the Franklin County Prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Keys, who had earlier been released on bond. According to Groveport Police Detective Josh Gilbert, on Aug. 31 officers located Keys in a residence in the 1400 block of East 25th Avenue in Columbus. With assistance from Franklin County Sheriff’s Office SWAT, Keys was taken into custody. Four handguns were also recovered from the address at that time. Gilbert said two of the weapons had been altered to be fully automatic.
When asked what security measures worked at the Sept. 2 game and what needs improvement, Short said, “School staff set up two pre-screening areas that guests had to pass through prior to the ticket gate. In these areas visitors were scrutinized for bags (which were generally forbidden) and other suspicious clothing or items. Staff shut off all admittance at the end of the second quarter, which greatly aided in discouraging the problematic elements from showing up at or after halftime to not watch the game and generally cause trouble.”
Short said extra police officers were added, which allowed for “vigorous patrol of the parking lot to prevent loitering and gathering of disruptive groups.”
“We had 11 Groveport Police officers and one Madison Township Police officer working the game on Sept. 2,” said Short. “Madison Township School Resource Officer Keith Mallory regularly works the football games with us as he and Groveport School Resource Officer Boso are more familiar with the high school kids. We consider Keith part of our team.”
Short said the only incident of note at the Sept. 2 game was one high school student being expelled from the stadium for yelling at students and attempting to start a fight.
“Other than that everyone peacefully watched the game from the bleachers and visited the concession stand as intended,” said Short. “All the officers had people approach them to thank them for their actions in responding to and catching the shooting suspect at the game on Aug. 19. We had many people comment on the more relaxed atmosphere of this game and the absence of turbulent juveniles allowing people to simply ‘watch some high school football’ (where the Cruisers defeated the Wolves 21-6.)”
Warner said, while there are elements of the safety and security plans that officials are unable to share publicly, they believe everything worked as it was expected.
“We will refine our check-in process, where guests will go through a safety zone before they can enter the stadium,” said Warner.
Spectator attendance at the Sept. 2 game against Worthington Kilbourne was noticeably lower than at the Aug. 19 game against Canal Winchester. About 2,500 fans were estimated to have attended the Canal Winchester game, but at the game against Worthington Kilbourne the crowd was estimated to number in the hundreds.
“Attendance was down significantly from the Canal Winchester game, so it will be interesting to see how things shake out if attendance is back up for the Reynoldsburg and/or Pickerington Central games,” said Short.
However, Short said there was a special fan in attendance at the Sept. 2 game.
“(Former Cruiser and NFL star running back) Le’Veon Bell showed up to watch the game with an entourage including his small fluffy dog,” said Short.
Warner said district officials have no data from which to draw a definitive conclusion regarding the lower than usual turnout for the home football gam on Sept. 2.
“If it was because of the incident at the previous home game (Aug. 19), we hope that our fans will feel more assured and comfortable coming out to future games now that they’re aware of the additional safety and security measures we have in place,” said Warner. “We will continue to monitor and assess the situation each week and make any necessary adjustments.”
Security measures include: not allowing backpacks or large bags; increasing the number of special duty police officers; extending the safety check zone at the gates; eliminating loitering; allowing no entry to the stadium starting after the end of the second quarter of football games; restricting student tickets to only Groveport Madison students and students from the visiting school (alumni and community members can still enter); removing troublemakers; removing vehicles from fire lanes; and issuing school radios to personnel.
Other potential actions include adding lighting to the high school’s north parking lot, using security scanning wands at entry gates, and checking vehicles entering the school grounds.