Irene Barry is on a mission to promote active-shooter training after living through the December 2017 shooting at Aztec High School.
Barry, an English teacher who lives in La Plata County, couldn’t hear the shots because she was in an adjacent building on the morning a 21-year-old man entered the school and killed two students: Casey Jordan Marquez and Francisco “Paco” Fernandez, both 17 years old.
But Barry did hear the school go into lockdown over the school’s public address system, and she heard a vice principal yelling in the hall that there was an active shooter. She gathered her students into one corner of her classroom, covered the window and kept them as silent as possible.
As one of 20 district employees who had attended active-shooter training, she was prepared to take precautionary steps and keep her students informed of what to expect during an unthinkable event.
“I told my students no matter how long it takes, we’re going to be evacuated, and this is what it’s going to look like. And I felt very secure in having that knowledge,” she said.
When a sheriff’s deputy and the principal arrived at the door of her classroom, Barry knew from her training to take extra precautions before opening the door.
Barry and a football player stood at the door with golf clubs, ready to fight in case a shooter was outside. Fortunately, it was officials who had come to evacuate the class.
During the Christmas break after the shooting, Barry started writing a book about her experience, in part to remember the students who died and in part to help other teachers understand the reality that such events can happen.
“We want the message out there that yes you can survive it, but you can’t ignore it,” she said.
Her book, “Surviving a Rural High School Shooting,” was published last year by a New York-based company, with approval from her principal.
To improve school safety, Barry said she wants active-shooter training required nationally.
In 2018, 114 people were killed or injured in 24 school shootings, according to Education Week.
“You never know what schools it’s going to happen in,” she said.
Barry said she also wants tighter gun laws, in part, because the Aztec shooter was sold a firearm after he was investigated by the FBI in 2016 for making comments online about a mass shooting.
It is important for teachers to accept that a shooting could happen in their school, she said.
Barry, 62, said she was born to be an English teacher. As the ninth child in a family of 11 siblings, she always pretended to be a teacher.
It was a dream she put on hold for 23½ years while she traveled Western states independently gold mining with her former husband. She chronicled her gold mining adventures in her first book, “Gold Mining 1977-2000,” a self-published work.
She expected her life to be mellow after leaving gold mining for education, but the shooting proved her wrong, she said. Her English students are still processing the event in their writing, she said.
Barry plans to keep teaching and promoting the importance of active-shooter training, she said.
“This is a national crisis, really,” she said.