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St. Mary’s brings armed guards to campus

Wallis Rogin
Mr. Mark Hooper, Director of Security, directs traffic after school helping everyone get home safely. Mr. Hooper was hired this year as the first Director of Security at St. Mary’s.

For Albert Throckmorton, St. Mary’s Head of School, it was a change that had been a long time coming. 

“Armed guards was probably the thing I talked most about … last year with the board and with parents,” Throckmorton said. “By the time [the Covenant School shooting in Nashville, Tenn.] happened, we had already picked our security consultant. We had already planned a lot of things.” 

School shootings have become far too common in the United States. In fact, the Covenant School shooting, which took the lives of three children and three adults in March, was only one of 69 that have occurred so far in 2023. St. Mary’s is one of thousands of schools in the country making security changes in the midst of these tragedies.

According to a 2019-20 Pew Research School Survey on Crime and Safety by the National Center for Education Statistics, 43% of U.S. public schools had armed guards during the 2015-16 school year, but this number increased to 51% during the 2019-2020 school year. But the decision on whether or not to hire armed guards will likely remain a debate nationwide. 

Some argue that armed guards are no guarantee of safety.  Armed guards were present for both the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Flor. and at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex., but in both cases they failed to prevent the tragedy. 

The Covenant School in Nashville this past March, resulting in six deaths, further heightened concerns on school security, particularly on local danger and the possibility of this kind of event happening at a private school. 

At St. Mary’s, gates and fences were built, and bullet-proof films were applied on some of the windows on the first floor. But perhaps the most noticeable change on campus are the armed guards. 

Throckmorton pointed out that many private schools within the Memphis area are also employing armed guards. This can be hard to confirm. In March, Fox 13 reported that seven of the largest private schools in Memphis declined to share their security measures when Fox 13 reached out. Tatler’s own reporting confirms that most of the schools that would match that description do in fact have armed guards, though we are respecting the schools’ decisions not to speak publicly about it.

The decision on whether or not to hire armed guards was difficult to make, but it was also vital to choose them carefully. For St. Mary’s, it was important not to go through a vendor when hiring.

“As soon as we said, ‘yes, we need armed guards,’ it was always that it had to be our own employees,” Throckmorton said. “So then we did the hard work of finding the three people that we thought were going to be the best at a girl’s school.”

This year, the school hired three new full-time security directors: Director of Security Mark Hooper and Assistant Directors of Security Don Thompson and James Fyke.

The new St. Mary’s security team including Mr. Mark Hooper, Tariq Goodman, Mr. Don Thompson and Mr. James Fyke (left-right), pose for a photo.

Hooper, the school’s first-ever Director of Security, recently worked in a similar role at St. Benedict. According to the St. Mary’s website, he has also worked as a federal air marshal, a special agent with the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission and a Shelby County Sheriff’s deputy. Hooper has more than 30 years of experience in law enforcement and security, which he believes proves integral to success in such a position.

“You have to be careful when you hire someone that’s armed. [You have] to make sure they have experience,” Hooper said. “[The security directors] have probably [a combined] 80 or 90 years of law-enforcement experience.”

Since the arrival of the school’s security staff, both the staff and the students are making an effort to create friendly relationships with each other in order to ease any fear that comes with the heavier security presence. 

Thompson primarily works on the North Campus, where he wears silly hats for the students nearly every day. Before his time at St. Mary’s, however, Thompson was a Navy SEAL. After retiring from the SEALs, he taught both pre-school and elementary school children. 

Freshman Cayden King finds Thomson’s warm interactions with the youngest students beneficial during this change on campus. 

“I saw on the Instagram one of the guards at the lower school with the younger kids, so socializing with them and not just knowing them as an armed guard is making it a lot easier to have them here,” King said.

Senior Lily Karnes sees the importance of the security connection with students.

“I have made an active effort to talk to [the new security staff] … because I understand what is important about having [these figures] in schools is that they become a part of the community that is not scary for the students,” Karnes said. “They need to be able to make that connection. Otherwise, they become big scary figures.”

Freshman Jilly Ramser has mixed feelings about the new guards, not because of the people, but because of the presence of guns on campus.

“It’s more generally just fighting fire with fire. I mean it’s an impossible argument … I trust the St. Mary’s security staff,” Ramser said. “But what if the gun doesn’t really work out for protection? … You can never trust a gun.”

Freshman Lily Saavedra-Willet sees the issue from multiple perspectives.

“On the one hand, I feel like it’s kind of intimidating that they’re here, but on the other hand, I can understand why it’s needed … Once a bullet is misfired you can’t really go back,” Saavedra-Willet said. “But I’m really happy that the security guards are fun and open individuals despite the seriousness of their job.”

Nationally, the question is up in the air, but for now, the armed guards at St. Mary’s are not going anywhere. 

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About the Contributors
Averie Howell
Averie Howell, Reporter
Senior Averie Howell has been a member of Tatler for four years and has been at St. Mary’s for her entire life. She is excited to see Tatler change and grow this year with its new members. Along with being a Tatler reporter, Averie is also president of the student council, a member of the school’s Mock Trial team, and does trap. When not doing all of this, you might find her watching “Grey’s Anatomy” or “The Devil Wears Prada” with the Tonight Dough from Ben & Jerry’s, or just anything chocolate. This summer, Averie went to one of her favorite places, the beach. Along with the beach, she also loves tacos, smoothie bowls and her precious Jeep. Averie also has a love for animals, especially her two dogs Grizzie and Nala. Averie is really excited about her senior year at St. Mary’s and can’t wait to see what Tatler has in store for this year!
Wallis Rogin
Wallis Rogin, Co Editor-in-Chief
Wallis Rogin is a junior who is excited to be spending her third year on Tatler as co Editor-in-chief. You may know Wallis as a quiet person, but once you get to know her you will find that she is a super fun person to be around. She’s always wanted a pet turtle, and once even had one for 12 hours before it disappeared. She is also a bold person and she shows her boldness by mixing her jewelry metals. She likes peanuts, but dislikes peanut butter and hates wooden utensils even more. She understands that wooden utensils are better for the environment, but just can't get behind them. Because of this, whenever she goes to Ben and Jerry’s, she always gets a cone instead of a cup because the Ben and Jerry’s spoons are wooden. She loves their Phish Food ice cream and would love it even more with a plastic spoon. One final fact about Wallis is that she loves New Girl and is still upset that it was taken off Netflix. 

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