Simulated school shooting aims to get cops ready
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org July 31, 2013 10:28PM
A police officer stands with a fake assault rifle during a training exercise at James Hart School in Homewood. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 3, 2013 7:06AM
Police roamed the halls of James Hart Junior High School in Homewood on Wednesday morning with fake automatic rifles and pistols, leading scores of “wounded” children out of the school while looking for two shooters.
The training exercise for about 35 officers from the Homewood, Flossmoor, Glenwood, East Hazel Crest and Thornton police departments used 75 volunteers — mostly students from Homewood-Flossmoor High School — to create a simulated school shooting.
Homewood Deputy Police Chief Denise McGrath said the department has conducted school drills before but never on the magnitude of Wednesday’s effort.
“As you see throughout the country, there are various crises that happen,” McGrath said. “We want to be able to work together when these incidents occur so we have a seamless transition and have the best possible outcome.”
The exercise started when a call came in about 9 a.m., warning of two armed men walking near the school. It escalated when the two suspects fired shots, generating a massive police response.
When the first police team entered the school, one officer was killed by gunfire and another was wounded, McGrath said, leading a second team to find and take down the second shooter while dodging the fake pipe bombs littered throughout the building.
To keep it realistic, police sectioned off the school with yellow police tape, turned on the fire alarms and the simulated the sound of gunshots. The first responders did not know details of the incident and had to react as it unfolded.
As police cleared out the school, they led students outside and took injured students and police officers to a nearby medical triage where Homewood paramedics tended to the wounded. Police in bright yellow vests worked to keep onlookers and media members away from the scene.
Preston Sanders, an H-F High School junior and varsity linebacker, said his football coaches told the team about the drill so they could volunteer. He said the team’s players are required to complete 10 hours of community service before the start of the season.
During the exercise, Sanders played a student who gets shot, falling to the floor and yelling for help.
“It was kind of scary to hear the gunshots and stuff like that,” he said.
Sydney Floyd, a sophomore at H-F, played the role of a student who jumped out of a first-floor school window after the shooting began.
“I couldn’t take it seriously because there were so many other people that didn’t take it seriously,” Floyd said. “People got scared when the guns started going off, though.”
After about an hour, the police officers had killed the final shooter, who by that time had left a trail of bodies in a school hallway.
“Good job, everyone,” said Homewood police Sgt. Mark Phalen, gesturing to the high school students playing dead on the floor. “You’re alive.”