Intruder exercise tests law enforcement skills

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Time seemed to stand still at Wheaton High School on a rainy Monday afternoon. Inside the building was a shooter. From the moment he entered the building and started randomly firing at teachers and staff, all sense of normalcy ceased.

This was not a real-life event, but a training exercise for local law enforcement officials, the Wheaton Fire Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Missouri Department of Conservation and Wheaton R-3 School District staff and administration.

The masked intruder said little, but was poised at the end of a hallway to take out as many law enforcement officers as possible before being apprehended or killed. From behind locked doors, classrooms were dark and eerily silent. His accomplice was attacking the school from another side of the campus.

Officers entered the building, checking each room as they advanced down the hallway. The protocol called for casualties to be ignored until the intruders were apprehended and secured in patrol cars. Two injured civilians lay in the hallway while officers made their way to where the intruder waited.

"Bathrooms clear!" shouted an officer. "Classroom clear!"

"Move on," said Wheaton Police Chief Clint Clark.

The four-man team rounded a corner and caught a glimpse of the intruder.

"Pow! Pow! Pow!"

A barrage of "shots" were shouted out on both sides. The intruder dived into a closet and slammed the door.

Four armed law enforcement officials converged on the room and apprehended the suspect.

In another part of the building, another team of officers apprehended the second intruder. Both were handcuffed and placed in patrol vehicles while the search teams focused on getting ambulance crews inside to attend to casualties.

Teams of law enforcement officers swept back through the building, knocking on each door and escorting teachers to an evacuation site away from the district grounds. Buses were warming behind a line of fire trucks, placed as a barrier between the school and a nearby street.

As the exercise wound to a close, everyone was brought back into the gymnasium for a review of protocols.

"I see this as a good success," said Superintendent Dr. Lance Massey. "The things we do as a district and each participating agency will figure out what they can do to make it better. I'd like to thank Chief Clint Clark for organizing this and getting everyone here today."

"I'm going to say the staff did a remarkable job," Clark said. "We will get [staff] out of here quickly in a real-life scenario."

"We made some mistakes," said Barry County Sheriff Mick Epperly, "but we learned a lot here today."

Epperly called "the bad guys" to the gymnasium floor. From one, he recovered a handcuff key, which the suspect used to release himself from custody, and a concealed knife in his boot that officers failed to recover.

Epperly displayed the items to law enforcement personnel.

"We want to make sure stuff like this doesn't get by us," he said.

"We hope something like this never happens in our schools," Epperly continued. "This is our first intruder drill. We'll review the tapes and see what we could have done better."

Agencies participating in the exercise included: the Wheaton Fire Department, the Wheaton Police Department, the Barry County Sheriff's Department, the Purdy Police Department, the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the Missouri Department of Conservation and the Southwest Missouri Drug Task Force.

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