Special Report: Bulletproof backpacks growing popular amid mass shootings

KEZI 9 News reporter Jessica Babb took them to the range to find out, putting them to the test with a 9mm handgun.

Posted: Oct 8, 2019 6:28 PM
Updated: May 3, 2021 12:18 PM

EUGENE, Ore. -- With recent mass and school shootings, school safety is a topic on many people's minds. 

“You still never know what could go down, any time, any place and anyone can get hurt,” said Allison Gordon, a Sheldon High School student.

For those who survive a school shooting, the memories never fade.

“I just remember thinking to myself, ‘This can’t be happening. We can’t have someone in our school shooting students,’” said Donnie Myers, who was a patrol officer.

Two decades ago, Myers was one of the first to respond to Thurston High School when 15-year-old Kip Kinkel walked into the school cafeteria and started shooting. Two students were killed and more than 20 were hurt.

"The bodies, the smells, the condition of the cafeteria -- those are things that stay with you forever," Myers said. "I never had seen anything like that, was never trained or prepared for anything like that."

Today, Myers owns a gun shop in Springfield, and he said he’s still passionate about keeping children safe.

As school shootings continue to happen across the country, Myers told KEZI he thinks people are looking for a way to stop them or provide better protection.

Bulletproof backpacks, relatively new on the market, have become more popular over the last few years.

From inserts to backpacks, there’s a lot you can choose from.

Some of the options on the market feel pretty light, like one backpack with Kevlar built inside. Other options are heavier with a steel insert inside. Some add up to 10 pounds.

But do they work? KEZI 9 News reporter Jessica Babb took them to the range to find out, putting them to the test with a 9mm handgun, which is a common size.

While multiple bullets hit the backpack, none went through.

Myers said if a child was wearing it, it could have saved their life.

“All your common handgun rounds this backpack will stop,” Myers said.

If you want something with even more protection, Myers said steel inserts can withstand even assault rifles, which many mass shooters use.

“You can see the impact of the bullets on the steel plate,” Myers said. “The backpack is (shredded) but the person would not be.”

An online search shows these products can range anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on the material and level of protection.

“I think it’s a great idea with everything that’s been going on and all the school shootings,” said Carla Kalista, a Springfield resident and mother. 

But not every parent is sold.

“I think they might be a good idea, but when it’s practiced in real life, it’s not going to be good because the kids aren’t going to have the backpacks all the time,” said Steven Ashley, a Creswell resident and father of two. 

So what do the kids say?

“You never know when a shooting is going to happen around you. It comes so unexpectedly. It's so shocking. It's so scary," said Crystal Martino, a Sheldon High School student. 

Gordon said she'd feel safer.

“I feel a lot of people would. A lot of people worry, and just knowing you'd be safe is a nice feeling," Gordon said.

Another student felt differently.

"I would personally not because I don't think, especially at Sheldon, I think it is not a big concern of school shootings," said Wyatt Witzig, a Sheldon High School student. 

Since the beginning of last year, there have been a total of 15 active shooter situations at schools across the country. A statistic people across the community said they wish would change.

“I wish 20 years later, we would have stopped these school shootings, and we wouldn't be having this conversation,” Myers said. “But the fact is they still occur… Why wouldn't you do everything you can to keep your kids safe?"

Having a form of protection is better than being out there with nothing, Myers said.

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