Fifteen years have passed since an honor-roll student emptied the clip of a 9 mm pistol he brought to Fort Gibson Middle School, wounding five of his classmates.
It’s a day Ron Holuby would “just as soon like to forget” but cannot do for at least a couple reasons. Holuby — considered a hero by some and an angel by others — confronted Seth Trickey that morning and was able to persuade the teen to give up the handgun.
“We ... were there that morning before school started, so whenever the students told us there was someone outside with a gun we split up in different directions — that was kind of the plan, to get the kids in safe rooms,” Holuby said about the events that unfolded the morning of Dec. 6, 1999, which happens to be his birthday. “I don’t know if it was fortunate or unfortunate, but I ... ended up at the door with Seth.”
Holuby, who had experience with emergency management procedures before the middle-school shooting, said students fleeing the threat were trying to get inside the school. He was helping ensure their safety and assessing the situation when he spotted Trickey outside with a pistol he had brought from home in his hand.
“I had been involved with emergency management for years, and through that experience I had worked through a lot of situations involving police,” Holuby said. “Seth was there holding the weapon, and I was able to talk him down and to give up the gun.”
The Fort Gibson school shooting, which occurred about eight months after the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo., is an event Holuby has “tried to put in the past.” But the work he does today as a reserve officer with the Tahlequah Police Department and providing security for federal buildings in Muskogee, keeps school safety fresh in his mind.
Holuby has been asked to speak about school safety procedures during seminars and training events for reserve officers. He said it is important for faculty and school staffers to be “familiar with law enforcement and that law enforcement be familiar with school officials.”
“As I look back now — the officers drive up and see me standing there with a firearm and a student detained — they could see things a whole lot differently,” Holuby said, noting the chaos that ensued immediately after the shooting. “Fortunately I was familiar with police, and they were familiar with me — that was a good situation.”
Richard Slader, who was chief of the Fort Gibson Police Department when Trickey opened fire on his fellow students, said he was on the scene “within 90 seconds” of the first reports. He said the first thing he “saw was a girl in the parking lot” who had been shot, and then he spotted Holuby and the shooter.
“I knew he was one of the good guys,” Slader said about the teacher, who was recognized by former Gov. Frank Keating as a hero during his 2000 State of the State Address. “You can imagine what is going through your mind when you roll up on a scene like that — it’s chaos.”
Slader, who has provided safety training for Northeastern State University students studying to be school administrators, concurred with Holuby about the importance of immediately ascertaining the source of the threat. Isolating students from that threat and securing them from harm, Slader said, also tops the list of priorities when responding to an active-shooter situation.
“The one thing I see — and they’re still having problems with this — is you have to have a place for all the rest of the kids to go where you can count them ... and let their parents know where they are,” Slader said about his observations to response efforts following school shootings that have become more common. “That is one of the things we hit hard on after our shooting — it’s chaos, obviously, and you have to know who you’ve got and who you don’t.”
Slader, who presently is an investigator for the Muskogee County District Attorney’s Office, said the 1999 shooting is the most memorable event that occurred during his 40-year career in law enforcement. The memories of that day come flooding back every time another school shooting is reported.
“We’ve never tried to run from it, we tried to face it head on then and still do today,” said Slader, who still sees on occasion people who were impacted by the shooting. “We’ve never tried to avoid it, if they come up and want to talk, we’ll talk about it — it’s something that will never go away.”
Trickey, who was prosecuted as a youthful offender, left the state four years after the shooting to live with his grandparents in Lawrence, Kan. He was released from state supervision in March 2005.
Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.