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Bodies, blood and gunshots at OHS

School shooting simulation designed to improve emergency protocols

Covered in blood, OHS junior Zach Throne played a student with a gunshot wound during the simulation. A number of observers watched his performance. Photos by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
November 24, 2010 - Bodies littered the hallways and blood painted the walls after an armed intruder entered Oxford High School Friday morning and shot several students and staff members.

By the time the gunman was done, six people were dead and two were wounded.

Fortunately, it was only a simulation.

"Today, this is as close as it's ever going to get to the real situation," said OHS junior Zach Throne, who played a gunshot victim in the exercise.

Designed to practice and improve emergency response protocols, the training exercise involved 50 students, six staff members, the Oxford Fire Department, Oxford Village Police, Homeland Security and members of the Oakland County Sheriff's Department and its Special Response Team (SRT).

The simulation was paid for using funds from a $250,000 "Readiness and Emergency Management for Schools" grant awarded to the Oxford, Lake Orion and Clarkston school districts by the U.S. Department of Education and Office of Drug Free Schools.

"I think today went very well. We had a lot of support from the community responders," said Dr. Stephanie Daly, who works for EduTech Solutions, Inc. the company facilitating the grant for the three school districts.

Oakland County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Shimmel played an irate gunman. (click for larger version)
The simulation began with a disgruntled, expelled student, played by Sheriff's Deputy and SRT member Eric Shimmel, entering the school and asking to see Assistant Principal Dr. Glenda Williams.

Things quickly turned ugly as an enraged Shimmel pulled out a gun and shot teacher Dave Carson. He then shot and killed Principal Mike Schweig.

"My death, although tragic, did save Dr. Williams' life," Schweig noted.

Shimmel began making his way through the hallway and classrooms, callously shooting students and staff.

An interior lockdown of the school was instituted. This means all the classrooms and offices that could be locked were secured to keep the intruder out.

Shimmel ended up barricading himself inside a classroom with hostages. He remained there until a sheriff's sniper positioned on the roof was finally able to take him out via a courtyard window.

Following the rather disturbing simulation, school staff, students, emergency responders and observers gathered to ask questions and discuss what happened.

Much of the discussion revolved around what to do if a staff member or student who is outside a secured room during a lockdown asks (or begs) to be let in.

The subject was broached because Throne, who belongs to the school's Theater Company, played a wounded victim who crawled through the hallway while bleeding and desperately pleading for help.

Should the people inside the classrooms have opened their doors and helped him instead of leaving him out there as they did?

The short answer is no.

"You want to minimize the injuries and tragedies that could occur. By opening the door, now you've broken that integrity," Daly said. "Once you open that door, the people in the room are now exposed to the incident. You have one person outside. You may have 20 inside. Who are you going to protect?"

The whole goal of the lockdown is to protect as many lives as possible.

"Under no circumstances open that door," said OHS Assistant Principal Todd Dunckley.

Daniel Axford Elementary Principal Joyce Brasington, who attended the simulation as an observer, asked where a student should go if they're outside a classroom or office when an interior lockdown is instituted.

Sheriff's Deputy Randy Huston, who serves as one of the SRT's training officers, indicated students in that situation should look for a place to hide such as a closet or restroom. "You've immediately put yourself in a better position by getting out of the hallway," he said.

Huston noted an armed intruder is "not going to go into each little closet looking for somebody because that takes too long."

Huston recommended that students not attempt to leave the building because exiting is not a safe option.

"You're going to do whatever you're going to do when somebody is trying to put a bullet in you, but it's not a safe thing to do," he said.

Someone asked if the opportunity arises, should they attempt to disarm the intruder?

"In most instances, I'm not going to recommend you do that," Huston said. "The gunman today is a highly-trained SWAT officer and you'd have been hard-pressed to disarm him."

Huston told the crowd in most instances, "you don't know who this person is that you're going against," therefore "you're taking a big chance."

"99.99 percent of the time, it's a bad idea," he said. "It's bringing a fist to a gun fight."

The best thing a person in a hostage situation can do is comply with all of the armed intruder's instructions and not antagonize him or her. "We don't want to anger him anymore than we have to," Huston said. "If he's telling you to lay down on the floor and shut up, my advice is to lay on the floor and shut up because you're just going to make him angry (if you don't)."

The topic of students communicating with their parents via cell phone or text message during a real-life shooting situation was also brought up. It was noted there's currently no policy covering this area.

"You're not going to be able to stop kids from texting," said Deputy Superintendent Nancy (Kammer) Latowski.

Lakeville Elementary Principal Kristy Gibson-Marshall favored allowing kids to contact their parents to at least let them know they're alive and well.

However, there was discussion about notifying parents via the "Wildcat Alert" e-mails and district website to not contact their kids so as to avoid the possibility of ringing or vibrating cell phones endangering lives or putting people even more on edge.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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