Schools, law enforcement practice shooter drill
Students and teachers — played by high schoolers and adults — scrambled for hiding places. Seconds later, they heard shooting.
“Blam! Blam! Blam!” went the mock shooter’s rifle as he pushed his way down the hall, firing malevolently. A cacophony of screaming and crying followed his movements. Fortunately, it was just a realistic tape recording.
The four of us in the library cowered behind bookshelves crammed with happy titles: Dr. Seuss wasn’t thinking about children taking cover when he wrote “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!”
Maybe we shouldn’t have hunkered down. Maybe we should have slammed open the exit door and run away from the building, instead.
After all, Mac Police Capt. Dennis Marks said law enforcement advises people to look for a way to save themselves. “Flee if you can, hide if you have to and defend yourself if you must,” he recommended.
But we hid. And we heard more shots, coming closer.
Shouts of, “Get on the floor! Get on the floor right now!” were followed by a volley of gunfire.
Chaos, then silence. Just silence.
A few moments later, two police officers entered the room and escorted us out, hands in the air, through hallways littered with shell casings. People being moved from other parts of the building said they saw victims, as well — actors, yes, but still worrisome.
Outside, some of the teens playing victims joked and teased about their supposed injuries.
“It’s not funny, but I have to joke,” Hazel Findley said. “Otherwise, I couldn’t handle it.”
She was in the hallway when the mock shooter came around the corner and pretended to wound her in the leg. She knew what was going to happen, so that wasn’t so bad, she said. It was harder to see several of her friends supposedly shot.
“This seemed real,” she said. “It was definitely scary.”
Max Morton echoed her sentiment. “I knew it wasn’t real, but ... it was freaky.”
Like other McMinnville High School students who helped with the exercise, Morton and Findley have been through the lockdown drills Mac High does several times a year.
Principal Kris Olsen said administrators surprise students with the drills at various times of day, including passing time, when most people are in the halls or commons. He’s been pleased with how quickly students clear the open spaces and secure themselves in safe areas.
Unfortunately, Olsen said, today’s students grow up hearing about shootings at schools, malls and other public places. They understand the importance of safety drills and mock shooting scenarios.
“We need to take it very seriously,” said Tyler Branson, one of the students hiding in the library.
Later, outside the school, his pretend wound treated, Branson said he was impressed by the dedication and preparedness of the officers. “They treated it as real,” he said, and that gave him confidence.
Students and former students comprised about a third of the 100-plus actors who took part in scenarios at both Wascher and Mac High. School personnel from every building in the district also joined, pretending to be students, teachers, distraught parents and aggressive members of the media.
In addition to McMinnville police officers, Yamhill County Sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers took part. They were joined by officers from Carlton, Amity and Newberg-Dundee, as well.
“Our first concern is to stop it, to make sure no one else gets hurt,” Marks noted as he described what officers would be doing during the exercise.
Yamhill County Emergency Management personnel observed the drill, as did additional education and law enforcement officials. Evergreen sent representatives, since Mac High’s Engineering and Aerospace Science Academy is located in the space museum. And personnel from School Bus Services also were present since their drivers might be used in taking students to assembly points or places where they could be reunited with their families.
This was the first time McMinnville police, other agencies and the school district have assembled a large-scale, realistic training drill involving live actors, said Marks, who planned the exercise with Mac High assistant principal Sean Burke. Both men said they wanted to determine what they were doing right and, more importantly, what they need to improve.
School Superintendent Maryalice Russell agreed, saying, “We all stand to learn a lot.” She thanked the participants for helping “in a circumstance we hope we’ll never really experience.”
Julie Friedrich, who works at the district office, played an upset mother during the high school portion of the exercise. Co-workers kidded her afterwards about the authenticity of her screams.
It wasn’t difficult to be authentic, she said, since, as a parent and grandparent, the drill hit close to home.
“When I hear about something like this on the news, no matter where it is, I want to go get my kids from their school, just to know they’re all right,” Friedrich said.
But the drill also was reassuring. “To know our kids are trained to know what to do, to sit quietly and stay safe ... and to know they’re doing this exercise so they’ll know what to do better ...” she said, “that makes you feel a lot better.”