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Donated bulletproof backpack inserts will protect most vulnerable Sullivan students

Rick Wagner • Updated Aug 10, 2019 at 12:07 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Sullivan County Schools on Friday received a donation of 100 bulletproof backpack inserts worth $30,000 from the Ohio-based company that makes them.

The inserts were donated in memory of former School Resource Officer Steve Hinkle, who was shot during a standoff on Feb. 23 and died on Feb. 26.  Hinkle, a patrol officer, had been an SRO at Sullivan Central and East high schools.

The donation was a partnership of the not-for-profit Blue Blood Brotherhood and ShotStop Ballistics, the company that makes the inserts, in cooperation with the Sullivan County Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Jeff Cassidy. The inserts came in two sizes: about 3.5 pounds and 4.5 pounds. Both are Level 3, which will stop high-powered rifle shots, including those from an AR-15 rifle.

During a news conference Friday, Cassidy said the donation is part of the love and support shown to the Sheriff’s Office in the six months since Hinkle’s death, and he said it adds to the measures of protection for students, including having SROs on every county school campus.

HOW WILL INSERTS BE USED?

Immediate past Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski and new Director David Cox said the inserts would be assigned to students who were the most physically vulnerable, having mobility or other issues that would make it difficult to move quickly in the event of an active shooter in a school building.

The shields will be distributed “to support our most physically vulnerable students,” Cox said.

Rafalowski said those children could include special needs students as well as those with temporary mobility issues, such as someone with a broken leg. Cox said about 150 of the roughly 9,400 students in county schools have such problems. Cox said the inserts will be assigned to students soon but will remain the property of the school system.

“We didn’t start out thinking we’d be making bulletproof backpack inserts. The unfortunate truth in today’s world is that a product like this is needed and parents are asking for it,” Matt White, director of marketing for ShotStop, said in a news release.

Cassidy said with recent mass shootings across the nation, student safety is a prime concern.

HOW DID THE DONATION COME ABOUT?

“I did not realize these bulletproof backpack inserts even existed,” said Tuesday Browning, who with her husband co-founded the Blue Blood Brotherhood. She said the national group wanted to do something in honor and remembrance of Hinkle and learned about the backpack shields.

“Our goal is to save lives,” said Skip Gavorski, who works in business development for ShotStop. He likened the inserts to a fire extinguisher, something good to have on hand but that you pray you’ll never have to use.

Browning said the Blue Blood Brotherhood is focused on providing assistance for families of fallen officers along with working with officers suffering from job-related injuries. The goal is to raise funds to purchase needed equipment for departments that are smaller and do not have the budget to protect officers.

MORE ABOUT SHOTSTOP

— Others at the news conference included SROs and other employees of the Sheriff’s Office, as well as Jeff Markland of Elizabethton, a board member of the Blue Blood Brotherhood.

— Gavorski said other products made by his company include less expensive backpack shields that are Level 1 and will stop pistol shots, as well as clipboards that will do the same. After the news conference, he showed reporters and sheriff’s employees clipboards that had withstood pistol fire.

— Asked if any Sullivan County students or others in the region used ShotStop products, he said he wasn’t at liberty to say but that one institution of higher learning in Tennessee is a StopShop customer.

 

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