This was not a drill. Instead, it was potentially a parent's worst nightmare.
Monday morning, a man was spotted carrying a gun on a Lula street. He pointed the gun at an off-duty Gainesville police officer, then fled into the woods. The officer alerted county officials, who in turn informed the school system of the threat. Lula Elementary School was locked down immediately to keep anyone from going out or coming in.
Within minutes, Hall County sheriff's deputies responded and wound up facing off with the suspect as he was barricaded inside a motor home a few blocks from the school. He shot and severely wounded a Hall deputy, and later was shot and killed by the SWAT Team during the standoff.
Though the incident came to a tragic end, the community can't help but be relieved at the effective response by both law enforcement and school officials. They handled a dangerous situation with calm professionalism and brought it to a quick conclusion. And though a life was lost and a respected deputy was wounded, it could have been much worse.
There are quite a few salutes to be offered in this case. Let's start with the staff of Lula Elementary, led by Principal Gary Alexander, who kept students safely in their classrooms during the incident while communicating quickly and effectively with both law enforcement and parents. Students were able to continue in their classes, and afterward, school officials answered their questions and concerns over what had occurred.
Parents of Lula students were quick to praise Alexander and his staff for the way they handled the incident and efforts to keep everyone informed. Nothing staves off panic better than communication, and school officials did just that.
Incidents such as the 2001 terrorist attacks and school shootings since have made such emergency drills a standard operation at schools across the country. Only occasionally do schools need to perform them for real, but such was the case Monday. Staff members at Lula Elementary performed their duties extremely well and are deserving of the community's praise and gratitude.
And we were once again was able to witness the professionalism and skill of our sheriff's department deputies as they responded to a crisis. They assessed the threat quickly, informed the school system right away and cornered the suspect without any danger to bystanders in the town. Traffic was diverted from the scene and the news media was kept up to date so the public could be put on alert.
Unfortunately, during the standoff a respected member of the SWAT Team was wounded. Deputy Joe Groover, 35, a three-year member of the squad, suffered a serious gunshot wound to his arm from a .44 Magnum pistol that required two lengthy rounds of surgery at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.
The good news is that Groover has regained use of his hand and is expected to recover. He remains in good spirits and may be able to return home soon.
Groover has been praised by his colleagues as one of the department's more personable and dedicated deputies.
"He's one of our best officers," said Deputy Maj. Jeff Strickland.
"I don't know anyone that loves being a deputy sheriff as much as he does," said Groover's supervisor, Sgt. Shane Presgraves.
He is just one of many law enforcement pros in our community who face dangerous on a regular basis with calm effectiveness. We often take them for granted until a dangerous incident like Monday's calls attention to them. That's when the hours of training and preparation pay off, and their hard work and planning helps to defuse a deadly standoff.
Lula Mayor Milton Turner was among those impressed by the department's response.
"They were Johnny on the spot," he said. "They did everything 100 percent right. ... None of our students was ever in danger."
We offer our best wishes to Deputy Groover for a speedy recovery, and we thank him and his colleagues for their speedy and courageous actions during Monday's standoff. Amid the confusion and uncertainty of the moment, their response reassured the Lula community and kept innocent residents safe.