Officials question safety after Pennsylvania town hall shooting

PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – Three people died and three more were injured Monday after an allegedly disgruntled resident opened fire at a public meeting in a rural Pennsylvania town.

The shooting has made some local officials wonder if something like that could happen here, but Paragould city officials say they've taken some steps to protect themselves and the public.

One thing remains the same at every Paragould City Council meeting: a police officer is always present. That became an unwritten rule five years ago after city officials learned of another shooting that was very similar to the one Monday.

"We certainly want to provide protection for people because the people who attend our meetings – from the council to the visitors – are citizens of our community," Mayor Mike Gaskill said, "and they deserve protection."

Gaskill has served as mayor for almost 17 years. During that time, he can only recall a few contentious city council meetings, but he says he's never once felt unsafe at city hall.

"We've never had an issue," he said. "We've never had anything come up, and generally our meetings go very, very smoothly."

The mayor, however, says a shooting in Missouri changed everything. In 2008, a gunman killed several people gathered at a public meeting in Kirkwood, Missouri.

"It was an eye-opening experience," Gaskill said. "Even though it didn't happen here, the potential is there, possibly, because you never know."

When he heard about the shooting, Gaskill says he asked that a police officer come to every city council meeting from then on, just as a precaution.

"Because of the nature of what we see in other communities," he said, "we just want to provide that protection for not just the people who are on the council, but the people who attend the council meetings."

The mayor says Paragould has never experienced anything like what happened in Missouri in 2008 or most recently in Pennsylvania.

"We see things that happen in other towns," Cpl. Jack Hailey with Paragould police said, "and we take those steps or try to take those steps to prevent that from happening here."

Cpl. Hailey says more than anything, the police officer acts as a calming influence, especially when the council members take up more controversial issues.

"By the officer being there, we hope that it keeps everything calm and that the meeting can proceed as it needs to and everybody can address their point," he said.

Mayor Gaskill says he cannot see things going back to how they used to be. He plans to have at least one police officer present at every city council meeting now and in the future.

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