Vian High School gun violence
Vian High School’s front doors are now the primary entrance for students and visitors. All other outside doors are now locked at all times, a change made after a campus lockdown in January 2023. (Kayden Anderson/Gaylord News)

VIAN — It is becoming increasingly clear that gun violence can occur anywhere, even a small town in eastern Oklahoma with a population of 1,300.

The Vian Police Department has implemented more regulations in Vian Public Schools, as students and parents deal with the aftermath of a gun violence threat in their community.

In January, the school district in Sequoyah County went on high alert after Hunter Craighead, a former student, posted a video of an automatic weapon on Instagram that Craighead captioned “heading to the big V.

The three buildings on one main campus, the home of the Wolverines, immediately went on lockdown.

Raegan King, a Vian alumna and parent of a third grader and a kindergartener, was volunteering in the kindergarten building that day. She was in the copy room when the intercom alerted the classrooms to take cover, but King assumed it was a drill.

Gaylord NewsThis story was reported by Gaylord News, a Washington reporting project of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

“So then, they came back over the PA system,” King said, “and [the superintendent] said — I will never forget his voice on this because he swallowed, like he was afraid — and said, ‘This is not a drill. We are now entering lockdown.’” 

In less than a minute, all the kindergarten classrooms were locked except one. King’s daughter’s classroom door was still unlocked as they waited on a child in the restroom. King joined the teacher, a teacher’s aide and the 26 kindergarteners they would try to keep calm and quiet.

They gave the students activities, such as coloring, to keep them occupied. 

“They did a great job, and (it was a) super humbling experience to watch as 26 little sets of eyes looked at their teacher, trying to gauge whether they were supposed to be afraid or not,” King said.

King said the kids were “really good.” And for King’s daughter, having her mother there was a comfort.

“She came and sat in my lap, and she said, ‘Momma, drills don’t usually last this long. I’m getting a little bit afraid,’” King said.

Chasity Smith, senior class vice president, was in chemistry class when the two-and-a-half-hour lockdown occurred.

“It was very, very scary,” Smith said. “I never, never thought that would happen.”

Smith said her classmates went silent, and she could tell they were frightened. They got out their phones and searched social media for updates.

Threat leaves impact on community

Hunter Craighead, a former Vian student, posted a photo to social media of an automatic weapon. The image was captioned “heading to the big V.” The post caused Vian’s elementary, middle and high school buildings to go on lockdown. (Instagram)

The Vian school district employs a resource officer, Vian police Cpt. Robert Allen, who divides his time between the elementary, middle and high school buildings. 

Allen said that during the lockdown, he stationed Vian police officers at each building, and he checked on all of them. The Sequoyah County Sheriff’s Office “got eyes on” Craighead after police arrested him at his home in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Craighead was charged with a felony, threatening to perform an act of violence, on Jan. 19. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 5.

Although Craighead never arrived on the Vian campus, the threat left an imprint on the community. 

“I mean, I try not to think about it. I still go to football games. I just am more cautious now than what I had been,” Smith said.

Superintendent John Brockman said the district reviewed its security policies after the incident.

Brockman said one thing he learned from the experience is that “anything can happen anywhere.”

The Vian Police Department now ensures that all its officers are familiar with the school buildings. At the beginning of the fall 2023 school semester, they held an active shooter training class for teachers.

Did you know?

More than 41,000 Americans who have died as a result of gun violence in 2023 according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Since the new chief of police, Mark Harkins, took over in February, school personnel also have adopted the RAVE Panic Button app, which triggers emergency services and alerts first responders with the touch of a button. Harkins has also brought in a chaplain and mental health specialist for officers and civilians affected by traumatizing situations. 

Allen and Harkins said they encourage teachers to take a Stop The Bleed class, which trains people how to take life-saving measures after injuries.

“If [a student has] been shot, and you’re not trained in how to stop and care for that wound, you essentially are going to stand there and watch them die because you’re not going to be trained in how to help them and stop that bleed,” Harkins said.

Security changes made for football team, stadium

The gates at Vian’s football field are subject to increased safety measures since the lockdown, including rules regarding bags. (Kayden Anderson/Gaylord News)

For Masyn Wright, a sophomore athlete, games have been a different experience since an August tragedy in Choctaw, where a teenager allegedly shot and killed another teen during a high school football game.

Although Wright said he does not worry about anything but the game while on the field, he has become paranoid about large crowds.

Two Vian police officers now travel to away games with the Wolverines. There is also a policy banning large bags and backpacks from Vian’s stadium.

Harkins said he does not know of any other school in the area that has police officers accompany its team when traveling, but he said they have received “absolute praise.” 

“I hope that people kind of see it and take notice of it and start following suit (and) doing it as well,” Harkins said.

Wright was in computer class during the January lockdown in Vian. He said his classmates were panicking, and parents were texting. 

Allen said one of the issues during the lockdown was that some parents arrived at the school, which would have made it more difficult to spot the student who made the threat had he approached the campus.

If another such incident happens, Allen said, the plan is for the fire department to secure the roads near the school and limit traffic.

Students and parents in the small town say they have faith in their local police department.

“Because I know them personally, I know that they will be here faster than anyone else could possibly be here,” King said.

Allen, the school resource officer, is familiar with Vian’s young people. He said he teaches archery, fishing and youth league mountain biking. He said the police department pays his salary for working at the school, and the district reimburses the police department.

“You don’t think of Vian, rural America, having to see things like that, but it’s becoming more and more common, and you have to be proactive,” Harkins said. “Because if you’re reactive, you’re too late.”