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How one man's trip to Uvalde is changing school safety in the Quad Cities

Charles Butler is the RIMSD security manager. After Uvalde's shooting, he took it upon himself to make the trip to Texas to learn how to prevent another tragedy.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — Charles Butler was born in Chicago. But his home is in Rock Island. 

For the past 20 years, Butler has worked as a security officer with the Rock Island-Milan School District. Then in January 2022, he was promoted to head of all district security. It's a life built on safety, and a role he doesn't take lightly. 

But in May 2022, when a gunman opened fire on Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, that legacy would forever change. 

"I was in the car and a coworker called me and said there was another school shooting," Butler said. "It always hits me a little different. But this one... it just overwhelmed me." 

Less than 24 hours after the shooting, Butler began making plans for a trip to Texas. A few days later, he was on a plane. 

He used his own money for the trip, bringing down Quad City art and t-shirts in honor of the 19 students and two teachers that were killed. The RIMSD didn't ask him to go, but Butler said he needed to. 

"I did this on my own. I had to," Butler said. "I wanted to educate myself to understand. I wanted to see what tragedy looked like firsthand, so I knew what to bring back to my district. I wanted us to have those tough and transparent conversations about safety." 

During the two days he spent in Uvalde, Butler met with law enforcement, administrators, teachers and students from around the world. When he saw the Robb Elementary sign, covered in flowers and memorials, he said the innocence in the air was tangible. 

At one point, a young boy walked up to him and pointed to the t-shirts Butler was passing out. 

"He says, 'Do you know those people on this shirt,'" Butler remembered. "He said, 'Those are all of my friends.' And he just hugged me. That was tough... that was tough." 

The last person Butler spoke with before heading back to Illinois was a teacher at Robb Elementary. 

"She said, 'Make sure you don't prop doors and make sure, no matter what, you lock those classrooms.' And she said, 'Or you could be next,'" Butler said. "I don't want to be next. And we're not going to be next." 

Now, the halls of Rock Island-Milan schools look a little different. Once he returned from Texas, Butler began implementing a series of changes throughout the district. 

He's upped and improved shooter training sessions. Plus, every building in the district will now be equipped with surveillance cameras; access doors; PA systems that broadcast throughout the building; updated fire alarm systems; and an ID requirement. 

But most importantly, every door in the district - whether it leads outside, to a boiler room, or to a classroom - must remain locked at all times. Even during passing times, doors stay locked. 

"Because that door's locked, he ain't finna waste his time shooting that door down," Butler said. 

After his trip, he looks at life through a different lens. One where safety is prioritized over convenience. 

"It's reassuring to us to know that we have someone from the district looking out for us and educating us," said Tonya Martinez, principal of Washington Jr. High School. 

When Butler returned from Texas, he presented his experiences and findings to staff throughout the district. During those meetings, Martinez said you could hear a pin drop. 

"After Uvalde, our staff was to the place where it was almost deafening - the noise that we hear in our hearts," Martinez said. "Until you really focus in on 'this could be you,' you'll keep doing the same things. And change is hard, but this staff here at Washington, we're ready." 

"That's why safety, that compassionate piece, has moved on to something bigger," Butler said. "Because now I'm looking at it from a different lens." 

The hallways of each building contain Butler's chosen family. And when it comes to his number one priority - protecting that family - he has it on lock. 

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