Pine Plains community proved its mettle during hostage crisis
Pine Plains is still reeling from the intense, emotionally charged incident of last week when Stissing Mountain Middle School Principal Robert Hess was taken hostage at gunpoint for more than two hours by a man with some serious issues. One of those issues, apparently, was that 43-year-old Stanfordville resident Christopher Craft wanted to express his concern with the wrongful treatment of United States military personnel, according to court documents. Why he targeted the school, however, is unknown.
What is clear, however, is that in a time of crisis, the Pine Plains community banded together, in hopes of gathering factual information and clear instructions to see the situation resolved in the safest manner possible. For that, all of the police agencies on hand must be lauded for their efforts and their expertise. From the New York State Police and its mobile response team to the Dutchess County Sheriffâ€™s Office and its SWAT team to the Pine Plains Police Department and the Poughkeepsie Police Department â€” all of them handled the situation with precision and sound judgment, keeping those inside and outside the school safe and protected.
But that doesnâ€™t mean there wonâ€™t be scars. How could there not be?
First thereâ€™s the unimaginable stress and terror that Mr. Hess went through. Although unharmed physically, from what the police reported, to be held at gunpoint undoubtedly leaves its mark on someone. Yet somehow Mr. Hess appears to have been able to reintegrate into his regular routine. He did not accept the offer to take time off from his job. Certainly the Pine Plains community, and beyond, is in his corner and offers encouragement and praise for the way he handled himself during the stand-off. The now-principal was a one-time psychologist, a background that could only have helped in such a bizarre situation as the one he found himself in last week. As Mr. Hess is a witness to a crime thatâ€™s under investigation, he is not able to speak with the press at this time about his experience.
That brings matters to the students. How are they reacting to the fact that their principal, their leader, was taken hostage on their home turf? It must have been incredibly frightening. Students who spoke with this newspaperâ€™s reporter (see story, Page A1) seemed to be readjusting and were proud of their principal. Have they been able to make sense of it all? No, but thatâ€™s what counseling is for. And the school district is making sure counseling is available, in case the shock wears off and students or staff suddenly need that support. Itâ€™s good to know the school acknowledges counseling is an important part of the recovery stage.
Throughout the aftermath of this incident there will be other issues that will arise. The check-in policy throughout the Pine Plains Central School District is one. Certainly the school greeter, who welcomes visitors with a sign-in sheet, does not provide the safety measures needed to protect students, staff and anyone else within the schoolsâ€™ halls. The district needs to address such policies, decide whether metal detectors are necessary, consider budgeting for a Student Resource Officer and review other tactics to help keep all of its schools safe.
Clearly there were not adequate provisions last week to protect the principal from becoming a target. Letâ€™s encourage and support the school district so it can remedy any weaknesses in its current security system. This way it can be prepared for any future surprises, and ideally dissuade any planned attacks before they even begin.