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Latest school craze? Armored backpacks

– A Colombian firm that makes bulletproof vests is now creating armored clothing for children.

Factory owner Miguel Caballero said he never thought about making protective clothes for kids until requests came in following the deadly attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last month.

“After the tragedy in Connecticut, we started getting emails from customers asking for protected (clothing) because they were afraid to take their kids to school,” Caballero said.

“We have received messages from all over the United States,” seeking the protective gear, added Giovanni Cordero, the company’s marketing director.

Products include child-sized armored vests, protective undershirts and backpacks with ballistic protection that can be used as shields.

The products are designed for children ages 8 to 16 and cost $150 to $600 depending on the complexity of their construction. Each piece weighs 2 to 4 pounds.

“The products were created with the American market in mind, not for the Latino market,” Caballero said. “All the designs and colors, everything is thought out with them in mind.”

Caballero performed a test on a pink-and-yellow striped bulletproof backpack attached to a pale blue protective vest, firing a 9 mm pistol and a machine gun to show it could withstand a barrage of bullets.

He said the backpack-vest combo and other protective gear have already been ordered by a U.S. distributor, although he would not identify it.

About 250 people work at Caballero’s factory, which has been making armored vests for adults for more than 20 years. Colombia suffers from an internal conflict that has killed thousands of people over the last half-century.

Outside Colombia, the vests for adults are sold in 20 countries, including Ecuador, Costa Rica and Mexico. They are also sold in parts of Europe, Asia and the Mideast.

Twenty first-graders and six educators were killed in the Dec. 14 attack at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, also shot and killed his mother inside their home before driving to the school and shooting his way inside. He committed suicide as police were closing in.

After the Newtown shooting, at least three U.S. companies that were already making backpacks designed to shield children reported a spike in sales.

Massachusetts-based Bullet Blocker reported it was selling 50 to 100 bulletproof backpacks a day after the shooting, up from about 10 to 15 in an average week. The children’s backpacks, designed to be used as shields, cost more than $200 apiece.

Most of the children killed in the Sandy Hook massacre were shot at close range and likely would not have been saved by armored backpacks. At any rate, children don’t usually wear their backpacks at their desks or while walking around school.

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