GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A retired Grand Rapids police lieutenant never thought he would have to repurpose his bulletproof vest for his wife, who teaches kindergarten.
“I was in policing for 25 years so the idea that I would wear Kevlar body armor was just a requirement of the job,” Patrick Merrill said. “Physical courage was just an expectation of the work. It was just a given. It became alarming to me that it’s a sad state of affairs that this is how I have to think about my wife, now; my spouse, who’s a teacher.”
But after the nation’s latest school shooting, which killed six people at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, Merrill and his wife Julie made the difficult decision to prepare for the worst.
“It’s insanity,” Julie Merrill said. “Obviously when I started this career, there was nothing in that realm at all and it’s just slowly grown. And sadly, I feel like I’ve become kind of desensitized to it.”
She has taught within the same school district — which she asked News 8 not to identify so the matter would not become a distraction for students — for more than two decades. She said while she has seen her school and its security change for the better, the reality and escalation of violence within schools is disturbing. That’s why, upon the return from spring break, she’ll keep a Kevlar vest in her classroom’s closet.
“Recognizing trauma is (hard). I get it,” she said. “We’re working on what to do with it. We need more social workers, we need more mental health care and support for families. That’s what we need. Because trauma doesn’t start at school.”
Schools across the nation regularly practice active shooter drills, but Patrick Merrill said it’s simply impossible to train for every scenario. Students may be in the hallways, at lunch or perhaps on the playground. Drills are typically scheduled to simulate a more controlled period.
“There’s going to be too many variables to prepare for,” he said. “So you got to be in the right mindset when stuff goes wrong. You’re not going to do everything perfectly, you’ve just got to be smart.”
Julie Merrill notified her school district of her decision to keep the protective vest in her classroom. She said she will keep it out of sight and prays she’ll never have to use it.
“I certainly understand that you don’t want this out in the open for a small children to see. That’s scary,” she said. “And it’s always my job to protect everything about them physically, mentally, emotionally. So I understand hiding it unless a desperate time (calls for it).”
The Merrills posted privately on their Facebook page about their decision. Both were saddened to see several other teachers reach out to inquire how they could get a bulletproof vest.
“That caught me a little by surprise,” Patrick Merrill said. “I didn’t expect that.”