Talon News - Good Local News



January 12, 2018

MR. POLK Stands IN FRONT OF some of the projects his students had completed the week before the shooting. Ironically the topic for their project was "Heroes" and/or "Warriors," and many of them selected family members or an influential person in their life. The melted crayon cross project was done by Jessica Gillentine, who also performed a song commemorating the event

"As soon as my kids were safe and escorted out, then I went into the chaplain role, and helped the officers," teacher Fritz Polk said. When we spoke, Polk had just returned from physical therapy for a back ailment, acerbated when he barricaded his classroom door the fateful morning of Dec. 7. In 35 years of teaching, 19 years as a San Juan County Sheriff Chaplain and 22 years as a pastor, he said this was by far the toughest incident he'd ever faced.

"I thought I'd seen and experienced it all, but while all that was horrible ... this was horrible on steroids!" The setting was the key to the tremendous impact. "It was evil that came to a place that was supposed to be safe. It threatened all of my kids, it violated our halls-it was on a whole other level of shock," the dedicated educator recalled. His students handled the situation by "keying off" his actions. Without panic or chaos, they took proper action as required in a lockdown situation. He said, "As soon as I told them shots fired, they did exactly what we'd recently reviewed and been instructed in drills."

When asked if he had a sense of fear or major anxiety on that horrific day, he replied, "Yeah, one thing at a time like this is, my personal faith. God is sovereign over these things and even though I can't answer why people die ... and as chaplains we train a lot, mentally and emotionally, I kind of went into both training and a faith-based mode. I said to myself, 'God you're in control,' and my heart was breaking, knowing what was happening ... but now I have to protect my kids and that's my focus right now. You know we're all going to die, but not today, not here, not now, not these twenty kids!"

In this case the environment was the key factor, causing greater trauma and more intensity.

As he protected his kids, instructing them to protect their chests with the best available objects, his mind went to Columbine and the devastation there. "Every teacher I know thought, these are our kids and we kicked into Mama Bear mode. Even when it's all over, you're still carrying the weight of 'are my kids okay.' You take it both very personally and very professionally."

He fully agreed with the Aztec School District's decision to quickly resume a normal schedule. "I really applaud them for bringing our kids back - that's one of the things they emphasize with any kind of mass shooting - reclaim the areas as quick as possible, especially for teenagers and schools. The sooner they can get back in those halls and link arms and say, 'This is our hall!' the better. Otherwise, he basically holds the school hostage, even though he's gone ... the damage, the reconstruction, the messing with our schedules the knocking us off our semester. The Monday back, I was really excited how many kids showed up. We did it together and we were 'Aztec Strong'."

On the Thursday and Friday afternoons set aside for student and parent visitation with teachers and staff, he counseled many and said, "This is where death and darkness tried to capture our school ... but your light, your strength, your courage to even be here can bring hope back to our school." He thanked the students and said, "Walk down that hall with power in your step."

Polk told me that he had a sense that day that light and life was going to win out. He pointed out, "Everybody responds different; I'm still going through some PTSD, I know it, I recognize it." He added, "Overall the vibe has been amazingly positive; it's brought out the best in everybody and even those teachers that are struggling are real and open and honest about it. Other teachers are coming along and linking up to support each other."

He expressed gratitude that his daughter, who used to teach there, was not on the scene. And that his wife, who had to wait longer than many others for his call to hear that he was safe, was dealing with everything.

"As a teacher, as an officer, as a dad, I'm very concerned about our culture of violence. I don't think gun control is the exact answer.

Throughout fifteen years of teaching history at Aztec High School, obviously he's affected many, many lives. In addition to his students, he's given tremendous time and energy to the community.

His final comments were, "I wish that we would become a society more open to spiritual values, to moral training, without some atheist against organized religion worrying about or being alarmed every time some football team prays. We've lost a moral base and we should have the freedom to pursue those deeper questions."


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