03/27/2001

Police enact shooting scenarios
[Roy, UT]

By Angie Welling
The Deseret News
March 25, 2001

(Roy, UT) - They didn't see it coming.

Wes Allington was opening his locker at Roy Junior High School when the 14-year-old boy was shot in the leg.

Levi Douglas, 13, was walking down the stairs when he was shot in the chest and left to die in a stairwell.

Shari Stevenson, 14, was crouching against a wall when the gunman shoved his rifle into her back and forced her down a hallway.

Fortunately for these students -- and the 900 others at Roy Junior High -- this was a training exercise, and the "bad guy" was only a police officer firing blanks. Within minutes of the chaos, the victims were able to get up and do it all over again.

But knowing that doesn't make the experience any less real.

"He just came up and shoved the gun in my back," said Stevenson, still visibly shaking from the ordeal. "It felt so real because he was screaming and yelling that he was going to kill me."

That is exactly how those in charge of Saturday's exercises wanted it. Roy police Sgt. Pat O'Brien told the 30 student volunteers to do everything they could to make the officers believe they were actually in a school shooting situation.

Ogden City Police Sgt. Loring Draper said recent shootings, such as the April 1999 rampage at Colorado's Columbine High School and this month's deadly shooting at Santana High School in Santee, Calif., have proven officers have to be prepared to respond immediately.

"What we're looking at is trying to make a realistic environment with the yelling and screaming," O'Brien said. "The more realistic we have it, the more prepared they are going to be if this ever happens."

The children complied with the request, as panicked cries of "Help me!" and "He's over there!" greeted the armed officers who entered the school. The halls echoed of gunshots, and the metallic odor of gunpowder hung heavy in the air.

Realism was the goal of the daylong training exercise, Roy police Lt. Greg Whinham said. So was learning the most up-to-date tactics to reduce the number of lives lost in such situations.

"The old adage of getting there, containing the situation and making a plan doesn't work anymore," Whinham said. "We recognize that we're going to have something happen and will have to respond and be active within two to four minutes."

Draper, who travels the country teaching police officers how to deal with gunmen in schools, shopping centers, restaurants or any other "target-rich" environment, said it's the school resource officer or the nearest patrol officer who will be the first on scene, and they have to be as well trained as any SWAT team member.

"It's the guy in the school, the officer out on the street who's going to have to deal with the problem," Draper said.

That was the case last week at Granite Hills High School in El Cajon, Calif. School resource officer and former SWAT officer Richard Agundez is being hailed as a hero after he shot and wounded an 18-year-old gunman. Three students and two teachers were wounded in the attack, numbers Draper said could have been much higher.

Police officers are trained to "shoot to stop" gunmen, even if that sometimes means killing them, Draper said.

"We are in the business of saving lives. That's what we do," he said. "These people are not here to take hostages; they are here to take people down. We have to stop that from happening."

The training exercise was mandatory for all Roy city police officers. Officers from Ogden city and Washington Terrace also took part.

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