Counselor Recalls Heritage Shooting | Thomas Nelson Community College

Counselor Recalls Heritage Shooting

November 23, 2021
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Erin Nobile was having a normal day in her role as Thomas Nelson's career coach at Heritage High School when there was a shooting at the school Sept. 20.

Erin Nobile, a Student Affairs counselor for Thomas Nelson, has been the career coach at Heritage High School since 2013. Her regular schedule has her at the school, which is in Newport News and nearly seven miles from the College’s Hampton campus, from 8 a.m.-3 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays.

 When there was a school shooting at Heritage on Monday, Sept. 20, in the late morning, Nobile was there. What started out as a normal morning quickly turned into a hectic and frightening few hours. The 2021-22 academic year was in the second full week of classes.

About a month after the shooting, in which two students suffered gunshot wounds and were taken to the hospital and recovered, she reflected on that day. The first thing that came to mind was gratitude.

“Gratitude that the situation wasn't worse and that there was no loss of life,” she said. “Gratitude that I was able to go home that day to hug my husband and young son harder than I ever had before. Gratitude for the two students with me and how they helped me to focus and stay calm. And gratitude for all the love and support given since that day.”

Below, in her words, are her recollections of that day.

Can you take us through that day? The shooting happened late morning on a Monday. It was a beautiful day, weather-wise, and the counseling suite where my office is located was bustling and upbeat. Counselors and staff were enjoying our usual, fun banter. The day could not have started out any better -- the sun was shining, and work was getting done with a smile.

Then, during the lunch period, I heard very loud banging sounds. My first thought, because it was so loud and seemed so close, was that someone was banging on the file cabinets outside my office door. But then the counseling office secretary shouted, “Get down. Lock your doors. That’s gun shots.” I remember jumping up, slamming my office door, and dropping to the ground under my desk. Before I could get under the desk, the counselor director brought two students to my office to hide with me, so I directed the two students to settle/hide under the desk. Having the two students with me helped me to focus and act, rather than panic. 

From trainings, I knew that I needed to keep the students out of sight and safely hidden, to cover all interior/exterior windows, and to lock or barricade the door. So, I checked those things off my mental list and then sat down with the students, trying to comfort them and make them feel as safe as possible.

I'm not sure how long we were on lockdown in the office, maybe an hour or so. During that time, I made sure that the students were able to contact their families and that the families knew their students were with me and where we were located. We sat together, prayed together, and encouraged each other until police cleared and evacuated our area.

What was going through your mind? Initially, all I felt was fear, panic, and shock that something like this was happening in the school. But, when the students were brought to my office to hide, adrenaline kicked in and really helped me to put my own fear aside so that I could focus on those two kids and their well-being.

How did the students handle it? The two students who were with me handled the situation as best they could. There was a lot of anxiety and definitely some tears, but overall, I was very impressed with their strength and courage.

Did you have any training that prepared you for this? Or is this one of those situations you can’t ever prepare for? Yes, we do have training to prepare for something like this. And yes, this is a situation you can't ever fully prepare for, no matter how much training you might have under your belt.

At the beginning of each year, staff and faculty are given safety and lock down procedure information and trainings. Drills are conducted throughout the year, also. Because of those lock down procedures and drills, I knew there were things I could do to keep my office as safe as possible for me and my students.