Sheriff lauds principal for professionalism

Published 4:42 pm Thursday, June 27, 2019


On the morning of June 11, 2019, the Southampton County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center received a call for service from Southampton High School reporting numerous sick students at the school. I responded to the school and was advised at the scene by a school resource officer that the sick students had apparently ingested candy containing an undetermined substance. Symptoms included increased heart rate, breathing difficulties and dizziness. One student was unconscious on arrival and at least seven more were ill.

I spent most of the next hour with Principal Aronda Bell as students were transported to the emergency room and an investigation was initiated. Ms. Bell checked on each of the ill students individually determining how immediate their medical needs appeared to be to determine the order of transport by rescue and to learn which other students may have ingested the substance and what the substance was.

The main office at the school resembled a triage center with sick students in most rooms and interviews being conducted in the others. Students, school staff, deputies and medical personnel crowded the area. Ms. Bell directed her staff and others throughout the situation with efficiency and calm professionalism. At one point I found her on the floor with a student who showed more severe symptoms than some of the others. Ms. Bell not only got the information she needed from the student but [also] showed such a caring manner that the student was obviously comforted by her presence and words. Ms. Bell responded to questions from staff and first responders quickly and accurately. Aronda Bell was everywhere, getting it done and never outwardly showing the strain anyone would feel in those circumstances.

I responded to the emergency room where every exam room was occupied by sick students. Ms. Bell responded to the ER as well checking on every student, speaking with parents and helping my staff with the investigation. A suspect in providing the students with the laced candy was arrested the same night due largely to Aronda Bell’s persistence in learning the cause and source of her student’s conditions.

I have been a first responder for 38 years, a detective, a SWAT commander and a sheriff. I have seen people in the worst possible circumstances at their absolute best and Aronda Bell now tops that list. Ms. Bell has all the energy and compassion that any great educator possesses. Beyond that she is a true and proven leader due all the respect and appreciation a school and a community can bestow upon her.

J.B. Stutts