By Charlie Boss
The Columbus Dispatch
It was like high noon.
The students were hiding quietly in the classrooms with the doors shut. The hallways were empty, except for the cop pretending to be a gunman.
He punctuated his path with simulated gunfire, leaving "victims" in his wake.
As a four-man police team slipped into Pickerington Central High School yesterday, their rifles aimed and ready, officers and Fairfield County deputies blocked all roads leading to the school.
Students and teachers, meanwhile, were huddled in the corners of their classrooms. Doors were locked, lights were off, and for 20 minutes, the school was on lockdown until police caught and arrested the gunman.
Though students never saw him, they've known for months to expect a lockdown drill that responds to a realistic situation.
"It wasn't really scary," said senior Alesia Hill. "It was pop-pop-pop and it was over. But we'll be prepared, and we'll know when to sit and stuff."
Officials said the "school shooter" exercise -- the first of its kind in the area -- was meant to teach students and staff members how to react in volatile situations and to help train police.
"Because of the video games, I know some kids seem to be immune to this kind of thing," Principal Chuck Kemper said. "The idea was to elevate the blood pressure just a little. ... The blood pressure was elevated enough that we got out of it what we wanted."
Pickerington Central, which performs lockdown drills about once a month, has planned the more-intense exercise for months. Kemper had canceled a similar drill in November after parents called with concerns.
This time around, administrators sent letters to parents saying that they could opt out of the exercise. Thirty students came to school after the exercise.
Police and school officials said the exercise was a learning tool for all groups involved, including the State Highway Patrol, Violet Township Fire Department, Fairfield County sheriff's office and the city of Pickerington.
"What we're trying to do is train for the unthinkable," said Pickerington Police Sgt. Greg Annis, who played the "shooter" in the drill.
Experts have questioned the effectiveness of such drills and how far schools will go to test their plans.
Parents at a middle and high school in Wyoming, Mich., said their kids were traumatized in October when police officers in riot gear entered two classrooms with weapons, declaring that there was a threat. Students, who were not told it was a drill, were taken into the halls and patted down.
Pickerington students said that was not the case yesterday.
Parents and students were informed months in advance and said administrators told them to expect gunfire.
"I thought it was going to be a lot different," said junior Amanda Mosedale. "I thought they were going to try to get in the classroom."
Police and school officials said the exercise went so well, they may do more.
"For the kids, they get to see that (the drill) works," said Pickerington police chaplain Rob Slane, who was available to talk to students after the drill. "You're asking kids to be quiet and stay low when they hear a gunshot, but their natural reaction is to run."
Parent Jennie Boutselis, whose son is a senior, had mixed feelings about the exercise and whether it's appropriate to expose students to such situations.
"It's probably a good thing in the fact that there are some crazy people with guns," she said. "But it's sad, isn't it?"
Copyright 2007 The Columbus Dispatch
All Rights Reserved
'School shooter' drill staged at Ohio high school