By Rick Palsgrove
Things were much calmer during Groveport Madison High School’s football game against Worthington Kilbourne on September 2.
New security measures have been put in place in and around Cruiser Stadium after a shootout and fights during the Cruisers’ Aug. 19 game against Canal High School Winchester. The shooter fired six rounds from a Glock 10mm handgun that has been modified to make it fully automatic. Fortunately, none of the bullets hit anyone.
“We believe the extra precautions taken last Friday night (September 2) for the football game were very effective,” said Jeff Warner, director of communications for Groveport Madison. “We received several positive comments from staff and guests who attended the match regarding its orderliness and positive atmosphere”
“Given there were no violent incidents (during the Sept. 2 game), I would say the security measures were effective,” said Groveport Police Lt. Josh Short. “I think the school district has done a great job with their changes and the way they have been disseminating this information to the community. The implementation was well done.
On August 29, a grand jury indicted James Keys, the alleged shooter in the August 19 game, on three counts.
According to Groveport police, Keys was arraigned in Franklin County Common Pleas Court on Sept. 1 on charges by a grand jury of felony assault (a second-degree felony), discharging a firearm fire on school grounds (a second degree felony) and tampering with evidence. (a third degree felony). An additional federal firearms charge is pending.
After the indictments were filed, the Franklin County prosecutor issued an arrest warrant for Keys, who had previously been released on bail. According to Groveport Police Detective Josh Gilbert, on August 31, officers located Keys at a residence on the 1400 block of East 25th Avenue in Columbus. With the help of SWAT from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, Keys was taken into custody. Four handguns were also recovered from the address at this time. Gilbert said two of the weapons had been modified to be fully automatic.
When asked what security measures worked during the September 2 game and what needed to be improved, Short said, “School staff set up two screening areas for guests to pass through before the ticket gate. In these areas, visitors were checked for bags (which were generally prohibited) and other suspicious clothing or objects. The staff closed all admission at the end of the second quarter, which went a long way to discouraging problem items from showing up at or after halftime to not watch the game and generally cause trouble.
Short said additional police officers were added which allowed “vigorous patrolling of the parking lot to prevent loitering and the gathering of disruptive groups.”
“We had 11 police officers from Groveport and one police officer from Madison Township working on the game on September 2,” Short said. “The Madison Township School Resource Manager, Keith Mallory, regularly works with us on football games because he and the Groveport School Resource Manager, Boso, know the high school kids best. We consider Keith to be part of our team.
Short said the only notable incident during the Sept. 2 game was a high school student kicked out of the stadium for yelling at students and trying to start a fight.
“Other than that, everyone peacefully watched the game from the stands and visited the concession stand as planned,” Short said. “All of the officers had people approach them to thank them for their actions in responding and catching the shooting suspect during the August 19 game. Many people commented on the more relaxed atmosphere of this game and the lack of rambunctious juveniles allowing people to just ‘watch high school football’ (where the Cruisers defeated Wolves 21-6.)”
Warner said that while there are elements of the safety and security plans that officials are unable to share publicly, they believe everything worked as planned.
“We will be refining our check-in process, where guests will pass through a security zone before they can enter the stadium,” Warner said.
Spectator attendance for the 2 September game against Worthington Kilbourne was significantly lower than for the 19 August game against Canal Winchester. It is estimated that around 2,500 fans attended the Canal Winchester game, but in the game against Worthington Kilbourne the crowd was estimated to number in the hundreds.
“Attendance is down significantly from the Canal Winchester game, so it will be interesting to see how things develop if attendance returns for the Reynoldsburg and/or Pickerington Central games,” Short said.
However, Short said there was a special fan in attendance at the September 2 game.
“(Former Cruiser running back and NFL star) Le’Veon Bell showed up to watch the game with an entourage that included his fluffy little dog,” Short said.
Warner said district officials had no data from which to draw a firm conclusion regarding the lower-than-usual turnout for the Sept. 2 home football game.
“If it was because of the incident at the previous home game (August 19), we hope that our fans will feel more reassured and comfortable for the next games now that they are aware of the safety measures. we have in place,” Warner said. “We will continue to monitor and assess the situation weekly and make any necessary adjustments.”
Security measures include: not allowing backpacks or large bags; increase the number of special constables; extension of the security check area at the gates; eliminate vagrancy; prohibit access to the stadium from the end of the second quarter of football matches; restricting student tickets to only Groveport Madison students and visiting school students (alumni and community members can still enter); eliminate troublemakers; remove vehicles from fire lanes; and distribution of school radios to staff.
Other potential actions include adding lighting to the high school’s north parking lot, using security sweep wands at entrance doors, and checking vehicles entering school grounds.