A standoff with the Washington County Sheriff’s Department’s Special Emergency Response Team ensued and after several tense moments the gunman was shot and a potential disaster was averted.
Though the gunman was carrying plastic weapons and was actually a member of the Sheriff’s Department, police responded to the school as if the scenario were real.
More than a dozen members of the sheriff’s department participated in the “active shooter” drill, which was held shortly after students had settled into their classrooms Monday morning.
The drill included two scenarios, one of which involved a report of an active shooter in the building and another where an upset father took hostage two teachers and their pupils after learning he had lost custody of his young son.
Although the sheriff’s department has routinely held similar drills, the frequency of the training has increased during the last few months.
“We’ve been doing this for five years,” said Captain Bryn Reynolds, Road Patrol Supervisor for the sheriff’s department, “but obviously since the shootings at Sandy Hook (Elementary School, Newtown Connecticut) other schools have come forward.”
Monday’s exercise was the second time in as many weeks the department had conducted “active shooter” training in the district. Similar exercises were held at the high school earlier this month and the sheriff’s department also held drills in Fort Ann on Monday. Officers plan to conduct training at the Mary J. Tanner and Granville Elementary schools later this month.
“It’s important because it allow us to familiarize ourselves with the buildings if something were to ever happen,” Reynolds said.
On Monday, shortly after the school went into lockdown amid reports of an armed gunman on the property, officers, dressed in full SERT (Special Emergency Response Team) gear—camouflage fatigues, body armor, helmets, eye protection and assault rifles equipped with flashlights and scopes, stormed the building.
The unit methodically made its way through the hallways, securing rooms as it searched for the gunman, who was found in the gymnasium, dead of a self-inflicted gun wound.
After regrouping, the unit was confronted with an even more dangerous scenario, a gunman who had taken an entire classroom hostage.
The department’s hostage negotiator was able to secure the release of the students but snipers located outside the school had to take the gunman out after he became irritated and lied about the number of weapons he had.
Whitehall and other neighboring schools have examined their security measures following the senseless murder of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December.
The district has held meetings to examine security protocols, strengthened visitor procedures, instituted new dismissal procedures that limit unfettered access to the school, and put in place additional security measures, like numbering classrooms from the outside so police officers can more quickly identify specific rooms and covering windows so there inside of rooms aren’t so visible from the outside.
David St. Germain, principal at the elementary school, said staff practices a lock-down situation every fall, but decided to do it an additional time with the sheriff’s department present.
Reynolds said the training is important for officers and members of the school faculty so they everyone is prepared if the situations were real.
He said the department often provides training materials for local schools so the teachers know how to respond in an emergency.
The training is also important to the students.
“The big take away for the students is that they see us wearing all this gear, we look like monsters or robots, but we don’t want to them to be scared and not come to us. It’s similar to what the firefighters do in their turnout gear. In real life we don’t want to be scared, we want them to approach us,” Reynolds said.