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Idaho: Real life drama shown in shooting drill

A mock-suspect runs down Snake River High School Monday morning during a drill involving a school shooting.
By Alyssa Chin
Reprinted with permission KIFI/NPG, Inc.

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If officers and teachers are lucky, they'll never be put into an unusual or dangerous situation within school walls.  But as Columbine, and more recently the school shooting in Washington State, shows never say never.

"Shots fired at Snake River High School.  Unknown number of shooters. Requesting all available units." These are the words from police dispatch, heard by officers involved in a simulated active shooter scenario.

"I'm still trying to swallow my heart to be honest with you.  It's very nerve racking, even though it is a scenario, your stress level is very high," said Bingham County Sheriff's Deputy David Johnson.

Johnson has seen simulated drills like this one before, but he's never taken an active roll and actually participated until now.

"Nothing prepares you.  The smoke, the smell of gunpowder, you can taste the gunpowder.  The shots, the screaming, and the people hurt. It's nothing you can mentally prepare for, the chaos it's just so extreme," said Johnson.

Having to deal with finding the gunmen, Officers also had to walk right past wounded students.

"It's very heart tearing to have to bypass them and try to reassure them as quickly as we can. A few seconds say we'll be back, I promise and hopefully they take that to heart.  I mean, it's very nerve racking to have to, because you don't know if you're going to be back for them, and you hope that somebody will, it's scary."

And that's why coordinators included teachers as a part of this drill.  They were put into classrooms, and from the start, under lockdown mode.

"You would hear some shots and everything, but you didn't know what was going on and the students wanted to know what was going on, and we couldn't go out and find out," said Mike Kneese, a teacher at Snake River High School.

"I think it's really scary to have that unknown. I was thinking during the time, if this was actually coming into my classroom, how I might respond to that.  I feel very unprepared that way, but at least to have a clue of how that works, I think it helps a lot," said Moreland Elementary School Librarian Susan Otterstrom.

"It was a little scary, but as we kind of talked in the room with each other, we calmed down a little bit and I think we can go back and take a lot from it," said teacher Denise Aikele.

And that's exactly the response organizers were hoping to get.

"This is the first chapter, we're going to do some other things this year, and the coming years. So we're going to try to be prepared, you're never prepared, but we're going to try to be," said Superintendent Russell Hammond.

This drill targeted teachers and officers.  Bingham County has another drill in the works.  It won't be for a while, but next time, it'll be for students.

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