Former Horry County SRO recalls coming face-to-face with student with a gun

Former Horry County SRO recalls coming face-to-face with student with a gun

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - Kids in Horry County head back to class on Wednesday, but before they do, WMBF took a look at changes made to school security on 18 campuses in the area.

The Horry County School Board voted this summer to replace school resource officers employed by the Horry County Police Department with private armed security officers through U.S. Security Associates.

WMBF News talked to a former Socastee High School SRO to get his perspective, almost seven years after he found himself face-to-face with a student with a gun.

In 2010, Christian Helms brought a gun and pipe bombs to Socastee High School.

HCPD Ofc. Erik Karney was on duty at the school that day.

"Around 2 p.m. on Sept. 21, 2010, there was a student who walked into my office, actually I had walked him into my office. He was looking for me," Karney said. "At that point, he bends down and pulls a gun out of his back pack and points it at me with his finger on the trigger."

According to Karney, what Helms wanted was his gun.

"What immediately thrust me into a position of, 'Holy crap, this is actually going on,' I have a 14-year-old standing in my office who is out of arm's reach with his finger on the trigger right at my head," he said. What do I do?"

Ultimately, Karney relied on his training at the South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy and at the Horry County Police Department. He made a decision to not let Helms leave his office with one more tool to cause harm.

"If he gets my gun, he's got 40-plus rounds and my gun, and me dead before we have a true outside response from the rest of our responding officers," Karney said. "So I had made the determination that you're going to have to kill me to get my gun."

Karney dived towards Helms and the student pulled the trigger.

"It just missed me and I landed on top of him," Karney said. "After a brief second, you realize, 'I can move. I'm OK.'"

Fortunately, the bullet just grazed Karney's head, but there was another threat lingering right nearby - two pipe bombs sitting in Helms' bookbag.

Karney said help from others in the school is what ultimately stopped the student from carrying out his plan.

"The principal that was there, the assistant principal, the nurse across the hallway and a security guard who is now with the highway patrol, but all of them there that day were able to help me secure that area and issue an investigation for the school," he said.

Karney uses his experience from that day to help other officers working in school settings. He believes school safety is about more than just security and goes beyond just one SRO or security officer on a campus.

"We can't do this job by ourselves; it takes a community," Karney said. "It still takes everyone working together, being vigilant, everyone focusing on how they do their jobs and being true to that."

Karney also believes it takes a special person to do this very specific work.

"Each SRO needs to be hand-selected. It's not every police officer has that mind set they need that could be beneficial to the school."

HCPD officials say while their SROs are no longer directly involved with students in a school setting, the community outreach team is working on strategic programming that will enable officers to continue building and strengthening these relationships.

That team has been tasked with engaging the young people of the community with initiatives and programming that focus on making healthy life choices such as EPIC or Camp Pride.

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