Retiree Will Morris appoints himself a watcher for his local neighborhood school. To protect against active shooters. The police and the school administration are wary of his motives.

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On Shooter Watch

Bob Gillen

Will Morris had just poured himself a coffee from his Thermos container when the police cruiser pulled into the parking lot of the James P. Madden Middle School and positioned itself in front of his CRV. Will watched as a female officer keyed his plate number into her onboard screen. Apparently satisfied that both he and the car were legit, she slid from the patrol car and stepped over to his driver-side window. Will rolled it down.

“Morning, officer,” Will said, raising his coffee cup in her direction.

“Morning,” she said in return.

She took her time looking around the interior of Will’s car.

“Would you mind stepping out of your vehicle?” she asked.

Will set the cup of coffee carefully on the dash and got out.

“Are you carrying a weapon?” she said.

“No. Don’t own a gun. Don’t care to, either.”

The officer had Will step to the side so she could see clearly into his car.

“I see coffee and snack bars. You planning to be here for a while?”

“All day,” Will replied.

“What’s your business here?”


The officer shook her head. “Watching for what?”

“Trouble…specifically, an active shooter.”

The officer’s facial expression turned to steel. “Active shooter?”

She motioned for Will to turn around. She frisked him. “No weapons.”

Will turned back to face her. “Officer, I retired six months ago. I have nothing of any consequence to do with my life. I watch the news all day. It tears me up every time I hear of yet another school shooting.”

“And this is your business?” 

“I can help in one small way by watching this school. I live a few blocks over. It’s convenient for me to watch here.”

The officer raised her head, looked off into the distance.

“Is there a problem with that?” he asked.

“We had a call from the school’s administration that an unknown man was loitering in the parking lot.” The officer stared straight at Will. “That would be you.”

Will shifted his stance. “First of all, I am no longer unknown. I saw you key in my plate number. You have my identity.”

The officer maintained her steely expression.

“I am trying to render a service to my community.” Will paused. “If I may express myself more clearly, since the gutless politicians in Congress turn their faces away from the many children murdered by guns in our schools, I figure someone should step up to help avoid more shootings.”

“That’s a fine motive,” the officer said. She gestured toward the school building. “But you’re making the people inside nervous.”

“I am not a creep or a perv. Perhaps I should introduce myself to them. Would that help?”

The officer stood tall. “Perhaps you should go home and leave the watching to us. One of us is always five minutes away.”

Will shook his head. “If I went home and something happened here – God forbid – I could never forgive myself.”

“You’re not armed.”

“No, ma’am. I have no intention of trying to stop an active shooter. Only provide an early warning of his presence.” He smiled. “I’m not a good guy with a gun.”

The officer took a deep breath, blew it out slowly. “Maybe we should take this inside.”

Half an hour later Will and the officer returned to the parking lot after a tense discussion with the school administration. The school principal reluctantly agreed to Will’s watching from the parking lot during school hours every day. Their attitude was, it can’t hurt. So long as the police vetted Will.

The officer again noted Will’s license and registration. Will offered her his phone number as well. “If you see my number come in on 911, you’ll know there’s trouble.”

She nodded. “My name is Stanton. Call this number if anything looks amiss.” She offered him a number which he immediately added to his contact list. “Keep your head low. I don’t want any trouble from you.” 

She drove off.

Will sat all day in his car, with time out for a bathroom break across the street in a fast food facility.

At the end of the school day he watched the children run to meet their parents for their rides home. The students screaming, laughing, hurling backpacks into the cars. The joy of another school day finished. They get to go home again. 

Will continued to watch, every day, for several months. The school staff warmed up to his presence, occasionally bringing him donuts or fresh coffee. He preferred to lie low and not be noticed.

In mid November, as the weather turned colder, Will sat in his CRV with a blanket wrapped around his legs. He sipped coffee, nibbled on an energy bar. Early snow flakes fell from a gray sky.

Late in the morning, Will spied a car pull into the parking lot. A beat-up Chevy splotched with rust and faded blue paint. The car circled the lot slowly, stopping for a few moments near the school’s entrance. Will set aside his coffee, yanked the blanket off his legs. Trouble?

The car circled for another pass. Will jotted down the license number. The car paused at the far end of the lot. Will saw the driver pull a beanie down low over his head. Will dialed Officer Stanton’s number. She picked up right away.

“I have a suspicious car cruising the parking lot. Here’s the plate number.”

Stanton said, “I’m on my way. Stay in your car.”

Will called the school office. “I’m seeing a suspicious car in the parking lot. You may want to lock the doors for a bit. Police are on the way.”

A siren pierced the quiet. Officer Stanton’s cruiser swerved in behind the suspicious car. Before she could get out, another cruiser roared in and blocked the Chevy from the front. Stanton eased out of her patrol car, hand on her gun holster, and stepped up to the car. 

Will heard Stanton shout, “Get out of your vehicle. Keep your hands where I can see them.”

Moments later a young man in a baggy hoodie stood up against his car, legs spread, hands on the roof. The second officer peered in to the passenger window. 

“Cuff him,” he said to Stanton. “He’s got an assault rifle on the seat.”

Stanton yanked the man’s arms back and cuffed him. She spun him around. The second officer frisked him, found a hand gun stuffed in the pocket of the hoodie.

“Why are you here?” she asked him.

The man shrugged. Said nothing.

Two more police cruisers and an ambulance screamed into the lot. Several officers moved to protect the school entrance.

Stanton yanked the suspect away from his car. Shoved him in the back seat of her cruiser.

“Call the bomb squad,” the second officer said. “We’re not taking any chances with this vehicle.”

School officials put the school on lockdown as a precaution. 

Will remained in his car, watching the activity. While officers ran tape around the Chevy, Stanton stepped over to Will’s car. Will rolled the window down. She said, “You might want to move your car away from here.” Will nodded.

Stanton tapped the roof of Will’s car with her knuckle. “You did good.” She stepped away.

A broadcast news truck rolled into the lot as Will drove out. Will smiled. Said to himself, “Yeah, I did good, didn’t I? Kids will get to go home again today.”