From inside an active shooter drill


(Posted Oct. 26, 2016)

Editor’s note: Messenger reporter Sandi Latimer participated in Jonathan Alder Local Schools’ recent active shooter drill at the high school. The following is her account of the experience.

By Sandi Latimer, Staff Writer

Gunshots in the hallway at Jonathan Alder High School. The “teacher,” whose classroom door is locked, slides a table across the entrance and yells for “students” to line up against a wall, out of sight of the slim vertical window in the door.

More shots fired. Students stand motionless. There is banging at the door.

“Let me in!” shouts the alleged “shooter.”

The “teacher” tapes paper over the door window so the “shooter” can’t see in.

After what seems an eternity but is actually just five minutes, Madison County Sheriff’s deputies wearing protective gear unlock the door and rush into the classroom.

“Hands up!” they shout, aiming their weapons at the “students.” They ask, “Everyone O.K.?”

I stand on the fringe of about 20 others in the room of English teacher Jennifer Danner as an active shooter drill comes to a close on Oct. 22.

By law, schools must train their staff on what to do if an active shooter shows up on campus. Jonathan Alder held its training on a professional development day. While students had a day off from classes, teachers learned how to keep them safe. Madison-Plains held a similar training on Oct. 17.

The Plain City Police Department, Madison County Sheriff’s Office and State Highway Patrol put on the training at Jonathan Alder.

As I stood motionless, staring at the heavily protected deputies, I recalled the words of Plain City Officer Gary Gilcrist Jr. who, prior to the drill, led a workshop on what to do if an intruder enters the school.

In such cases, he said, teachers should ignore fire alarms (an intruder could set off the alarms to get attention and get people to run into the hallways) and ignore PA announcements (an intruder could commandeer the PA system).

“Only the sheriff’s deputies can free you,” he said, holding up a weapon the officers would be using.

“They are empty. Look for the green string,” he said, pulling on a bright green rope hanging from the barrel of the gun.

This was the first time I’d had a gun pointed in my direction and probably the first time for the others in the room.

“Look for the green string. Look for the green string,” I kept telling myself.

Participating teachers and staff weren’t the only ones who were scared.

“We were as stressed as much as you were,” deputies said in a post-drill debriefing in the hallway.

The “gun” used in the Jonathan Alder drill was a starter pistol used at track meets. It sounded like a cap pistol when fired.

At Madison-Plains, the drill included a gun that shot blanks, said Superintendent Tim Dettwiller.

“What was shocking to me was to hear the gunshots in the hallway,” he said at the Oct. 18 school board meeting.

At Jonathan Alder, Gilcrist gave teachers and staff an overview of school and mass shootings, talking about Columbine, Virginia Tech, San Bernardino, and Sandy Hook, what the shooters did, what the people did rightly and wrongly, and what changes were made afterwards.

He advised school leaders to have an updated emergency plan that could readily be put into effect and notices prepared to be sent to parents in case of emergency situations.

Gilcrist advised teachers to keep their doors locked. Should anything happen, keep the children out of sight and keep them on their feet ready to run, he said.

In real life, students in Danner’s classes learn behind a locked door.

“My first year of teaching was the year of the Columbine shootings,” she said. “My students told me they felt safer with the door locked.”

After lunch, teachers and staff took turns going through drills in second-floor classrooms and going through a tabletop drill. The scenario for the tabletop drill was a possible child abduction by a non-custodial, belligerent parent.


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