The wounds were fake, the guns had no bullets and the shooter was an actor but those that participated in an active shooter training at Wellsville High School on Monday came away with a sense of what it felt like to be put in that situation.
Franklin County Emergency Management, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, local law enforcement and volunteer firefighters took part in the training that simulated two scenarios in which a shooter was in the high school. According to organizers, it was the first time a full scale active shooter drill was held at a school district in Franklin County. Wellsville Superintendent Jerry Henn observed the drill that included high school teachers, staff and some students.
“It bothered me,” he said. “Absolutely it bothered me. I never want to be a part of one (shooting) but I know that if I have to be a part of one, I think I know how I would react. Early on I felt like we were just going through the motions. The second scenario I felt was more realistic. I think it gave us a heads up as to what we need to do and how we can make things work a little differently.”
The drill was conducted on an in-service day so only a selected group of students were in the building. Realistic makeup was used on some participants to simulate wounds which were treated by EMS personnel. Franklin County Sheriff’s Lt. Curtis Hall said the training helped all of those involved understand what worked and what needed to be fixed.
“It’s valuable for law enforcement, its also valuable for EMS and fire to be able to understand how to work with the systems that we are trying to put in place,” he said. “There is no other way to evaluate those systems without doing a full scale exercise and testing them. There’s always things that can be changed and always things that can be improved upon. There’s never a perfect way to do things.”
Henn said the exercise is something the district needed to do, just like other disaster drills.
“We have done fire drills forever,” he said. “There hasn’t been a death in a fire for the longest time. When you start seeing all the shootings that are going on in schools. We need to train and be prepared for that as well. The whole goal is to keep our students safe and our staff safe. We are trying to put what we learn into practice. It’s what you do in a classroom. You teach them something and then you see if we can practice it.”
The students involved said the drill felt real and helped them to realize just how scary that situation would be. One of those that participated was Sam Leckner. She said during the drill, she experienced the fear.
“It felt real,” Leckner said. “It put it in perspective how much I didn’t know what I would do in that situation. Even now I feel like I can’t even move. It was something I had thought about. I told someone that it felt like I was in a nightmare and couldn’t move.”
Kaylie Reese was also a part of the drill and agreed that it was a scary scenario. She said seeing the shooter in the building with a gun was a frightening scene.
“I didn’t know what to do but then when the police officers came in I felt a sense of security, that everything’s going to be OK,” she said.
Both students said it changed their perspective on a situation like that. They said it was hard not to yell out for help because the shooter might be alerted to their location. Leckner was one of the students that had simulated injuries and said she was told because of her injuries she had to stay in her location.
“I couldn’t run but I felt like if didn’t have a wound I would have followed someone out,” Leckner said.
Natalie Cunningham, another student participant, said during the second scenario, when a starter pistol was used to simulate the drill and a fire alarm was pulled, it add to the drama.
“The second time we were in the room where they actually started it and when they pulled the fire alarm, he got up and pulled the gun out of his pocket and shot me,” she said. “We were able to make it out but our teacher was running down the hall yelling ‘shooter, shooter, shooter’ and it was really surreal.”
Henn said the district had participated in other types of training in the last two years and said the next step would be to have the drill with all the students in the buildings.
“Eventually the plan would be to do a full scale drill where all the kids are involved and go through that,” he said.
Hall said the training helped all of those involved understand more about what they would and wouldn’t do. He said the district found out that some of the safety measures that were put in place did not work and needed to be changed.
“Until you have been in a situation like that you will never know how you are going to react and every situation is different,” he said. “This is something that we hope never happens here but if we don’t prepare for it then we could end up like some of these other places that didn’t do more to prepare. While we can’t stop everything, we should be prepared.”
At the end of the exercise, Henn told the teachers and staff that the first step toward preventing a situation like this is for them to continue to interact with students.
“That’s where the mental health training comes in,” he said. “We learn different techniques to observe kids. One day they come in as happy as can be and then the next they are depressed and down. We need to ask questions and be observant about how they come and how they react. Our teachers do a great job of that.”