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Rocori High School shooting 20 years later: "You are never going to forget about it"

Rocori school shooting: 20 years later
Rocori school shooting: 20 years later 03:24

COLD SPRING, Minn. -- Not a day goes by that Mark Johnson doesn't think about Sept. 24, 2003. 

He was the Rocori gym teacher who confronted and stopped Jason McLaughlin from potentially shooting more people.

"You don't forget. You are never going to forget about it. Society just keeps kind of reminding you of the problems that we have," Johnson said.  "I've got a lot of students, past students, especially, coming around now, they'll come up and talk to me about it... I don't really see myself as a hero. More of a reaction."

But it was a reaction that changed Johnson's life forever. And he's far from alone.

Even though it's been 20 years, the feelings and emotions are still raw. Many of the students impacted back then, are parents now.

"It's one of those things that you never expect to happen in your hometown," Cold Spring-Richmond Police Chief Jason Blum said. "I had younger siblings at the time, so it really hit home."

Blum graduated from Rocori. He was in college when the shooting happened and remembers worrying about his family members who were still in school.

"Everybody in the school. You don't know what's going on, it's just chaos. You are just worried about everybody," Blum said.

That day helped motivate Blum's career. His kids now attend Rocori and he says he's worked hard to maintain a solid connection with the entire district to keep kids safe.

"We have a great relationship with not only the Cold Spring-Richmond Police Department but also the sheriff's office," Ryan Hauge, Rocori High School Principal said.

"Having partnerships with law enforcement has really been helpful."

Superintendent Kevin Enerson and Principal Hauge say a lot has changed over the past two decades, as they work to have the highest safety compliance they can. That includes enabling students to report something anonymously if they see a threat. While it may seem surreal at times, kids practice run, hide and fight strategies in school.

"The advent of crisis planning and preparing for situations has changed in all school districts," Enerson said.

"I think every school is trying as hard as they can to be as safe as they can," Hauge said. "It's the top priority we come in with every day — is to make sure our students are safe physically and emotionally."

Johnson applauds those efforts but believes there is more to do.

"I'm all for the second amendment, but if you are going to own one, then take responsibility of taking care of it," Johnson said. "I think two students would still be alive if we had accountability of accessibility. We need to learn to take care of the guns that we have."

Even as he's forced to look back, Johnson is optimistic about the future. Now retired after nearly 50 years of teaching and coaching, he misses working with kids, but he says he left his job knowing they're in good hands.

"I have full faith in this school district. I have faith in all school districts to be honest with you. They are all doing the best that they can do," Johnson said.

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