FORT WAYNE — Mark Cowan wants people to know he’s not a vigilante.
“I’m 64. I’ve had a good life,” the Fort Wayne man said Monday afternoon while watching the grounds at North Side High School, a mission he started Friday. “I want to make sure these kids have a good life.”
Cowan, who is armed but stays off school grounds, also said he’s not alone: Other members of the Oath Keepers and members of a group he called the “Freedom Riders” are out watching at other local schools, he said.
Oath Keepers identifies itself as a non-partisan group of current and former military personnel, police and first-responders who pledge to “defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” it said on the group’s website, https://www.oathkeepers.org.
A group called Freedom Riders of Indiana group seeks to “be ambassadors of goodwill in our community and to American military men and women, first-responders and their families,” it said at http://www.thefreedomriders.org/.
A U.S. Army veteran and Oath Keepers member, Cowan said he was inspired to begin standing watch outside North Side after hearing about a few local reports of school threats Thursday, including one at Woodlan Jr.-Sr. High School that resulted in a 14-year-old student being arrested on a charge of intimidation.
“I care enough about my community, I am willing to stand here all day, every day, to watch over these kids,” he said.
The tragedy of school shootings has been on his mind since the shooting in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., when 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders.
“I was really ripped up about Sandy Hook,” Cowan said, saying he even cried.
He decided to follow through with one of the suggestions that emerged – do an act of kindness for each of those who died – and he’s still doing so.
At North Side, Cowan said he plans to alert police and/or the school when he sees anyone who appears to be a threat heading toward the building. He also will call police if he sees fights or similar activity in the school parking lots.
If shooting does start, Cowan said he’s going after the suspect.
“I’m willing to take a bullet to save kids,” said Cowan, who was armed with a handgun Monday.
Cowan, who said he’s a longtime supporter of local law enforcement officers, said officers know him and aren’t worried by his presence near North Side. One Fort Wayne Police Department officer stopped by to chat with him Monday afternoon as Cowan stood watch from a private parking lot across an alley from school parking lots.
Officially, Fort Wayne Police have no comment on Cowan’s efforts, Officer Michael Joyner, police public information officer, said Tuesday.
Some parents have expressed concern about Cowan being outside the school, he said, but more have voiced support.
Several people came by earlier Monday to give him a hug, food and money as a way to thank him for being there, he said.
While speaking to a News-Sentinel.com reporter Monday afternoon, a father who said he is a former U.S. Marine drove by to thank Cowan for being there. Another North Side parent, David Bennett, walked over to stand and talk with Cowan.
“It’s about protecting what you’ve got,” said Bennett, who has one child at North Side and one at New Haven High School. “I’ll protect my family, his family, your family.”
Some of those concerned about Cowan checked to see if he has a criminal history, and they found a misdemeanor battery conviction from September 2017.
The probable cause affidavit filed in the case doesn’t give details about what led to the incident, which was reported to police as a fight at Cass and Fifth streets. The affidavit says Cowan reportedly hit a Kelly Gibson on the forehead with a baton on July 28, causing a gash that needed stitches.
Gibson allegedly had punched one of Cowan’s younger relatives and reportedly was getting ready to punch another young relative, so Cowan stepped in to stop him.
Cowan pleaded guilty and the court sentenced him to one year in jail, with all time suspended.
“I’m just tired of being put in a bad light when I am just trying to make sure these kids are safe,” he said.
Cowan, who said he served for 472 of the 494 days Oath Keepers stood guard outside the Fort Wayne U.S. military recruiting center in Glenbrook Commons in 2015-2016, said he is prepared to stay at North Side for the long haul.
“I want a school shooter to know there is somebody out here watching,” he said.
This story provided by agreement through the Hoosier State Press Association,