School shooting victim's widow makes safety her mission

School shooting victim's widow makes safety of children her mission

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The Newtown shooting has re-ignited the debate on school safety and gun control. Jo Bruce says she hopes this time we will see change. The Newtown shooting has re-ignited the debate on school safety and gun control. Jo Bruce says she hopes this time we will see change.
Kenny Bartley originally pleaded guilty and got a 45-year sentence for the shooting. Kenny Bartley originally pleaded guilty and got a 45-year sentence for the shooting.
An armed school resource officer is visible today at Campbell County High School. An armed school resource officer is visible today at Campbell County High School.

By KRISTIN FARLEY
6 News Anchor/Reporter

OAK RIDGE (WATE) - Jo Bruce is the widow of one of the victims of a shooting at Campbell County High School on November 8, 2005.

She says each new school shooting painfully brings into focus her mission to make sure her husband Ken is not forgotten.

Kenny Bartley was just 14 when he shot and killed Ken Bruce and injured school administrators Jim Pierce and Ron Seale. The day was one of the worst school shootings in East Tennessee history.

An armed school resource officer, or SRO, is visible today at Campbell County High School and memorials stand honoring Bruce's husband.

Are those reminders or do people really remember that day seven years ago?

"I just think we've forgot that instant pain," Bruce said. "Sometimes we really need to keep that fresh so that we can learn and grow from it."

The Newtown shooting has re-ignited the debate on school safety and gun control. Bruce says she hopes this time we will see change.

"What I find happens is an event happens and you have like four weeks, and if you do something amazing in four weeks, then great," she said. "But if you missed the window, once again, something else comes along, then all that work sits and then when we wait for the next event."

For Bruce, a social worker at Willow Brook Elementary in Oak Ridge, waiting is not an option.

While she doesn't like some of the focus in the national debate, she is glad people are talking.

"I really hate to think that guns are the big issue for education. I hate to say that, but I do because it isn't to me. For me it's about the individuals in our buildings and making sure we know them," Bruce said.

Bruce reflects on stories about her husband's killer, saying she heard Bartley did not feel like he fit in. 

She believes her own husband was trying to reach out to him.

"That day my husband was shot there were rumors he actually gave Kenny Bartley his lunch money and fed him. I think they were trying," Bruce said. "For me, I personally look at it and think: Guns don't kill people; people kill people. And so for me, I want us to focus more on the mental health issues and strong communities and healthy culture of mutual respect."

Bruce also had some strong opinions about guns in schools.

We asked what she thought about a state proposal that would allow teachers to carry guns at schools. 

"My personal opinion is no," Bruce said. "I don't want to see any teacher carry a gun in our building. Teachers are here to teach."

She is not completely against guns in our schools. Bruce believes we just need to make sure they are in the right hands.

"I am actually a huge supporter of SRO's and the reason is because when my husband was shot we had a security guard and she was doing great job, but she was school employee so she had to follow school rules which meant she had to wait for a male to come and search this young gentleman that she was told had a gun." Bruce said, fighting back tears. "So for me it is personal."

Campbell County High School has a paid SRO now, but not all schools do and she says it may be time for that to change.

"I think if we really feel that strongly that someone needs to be armed to protect our children in our building than we owe it to them to find the tax dollars or whatever dollars to put an SRO in place," Bruce said.

Bruce is trying to move forward. She has continued to work in area schools and counsels local children. Every year she returns to the place where her husband was shot and killed.

"Sometimes it is difficult to go to Campbell County High School, but I am proud to go there because we have a wonderful scholarship fund there," Bruce said.

Bruce also helps conduct SRO workshops across the nation.

Bruce said sharing her husband's story brings her a sense of peace. She hopes what she's learned will help others avoid what she and so many others are living through.

As for the shooter in this case, Kenny Bartley originally pleaded guilty and got a 45-year sentence.

Then at the age of 20 he said he was coerced into a plea deal and a judge granted a new trial.

The state appealed that ruling and the case is currently before the Court of Criminal of Appeals.

Bartley is being held at the Northwest Correctional Facility in Tiptonville.

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