Active shooter drill held in Purdy schools
Officers track two assailants in more realistic scenario
An active shooter training exercise at the Purdy schools on Monday brought law enforcement, firefighters and ambulance crews to the school for the second time in a year and a half.
Superintendent Steven Chancellor said the exercise is part of an ongoing effort to make the school safer. He noted that twice the district has had a parent say, “I’m getting my gun and I’m coming to get my kids.” While around seven years have passed since there was a person who died in a school fire, and fire drills are held fairly frequently, tornadoes and active shooters, he noted, have become much more probable scenarios.
Monday’s drill took place on a professional development day when students were out of class. Six volunteered to serve as “victims” with moulage makeup provided by Cox EMS staffers David Lunsford and Ty Machett. A Barry-Lawrence Ambulance crew stood by outside the school to whisk patients away, leaving firefighters to bring them the patients.
The scenario called for two active shooters, both entering from the west, coming down the elementary and high school hallways. Teachers were in their rooms. Loud bangs from firearm blanks rang through the hallways, followed by a loudspeaker announcement that the school was going into lockdown mode. Several “victims” had been strategically placed in hallways for responding law enforcement to encounter.
Monitoring the response were Purdy Police Chief Jackie Lowe, Barry County Sheriff Gary Davis and Chancellor and Associate Superintendent Mindi Gates. Davis said he staggered the arrival of his officers, coming in groups 5-15 minutes after the initial shots were fired to more realistically reflect how his deputies would arrive, likely coming from more distant corners of the county.
Firefighters came in with law enforcement, unlike an earlier drill a year and a half ago. Chief Nick Mercer said that choice is based on military tactical combat care, to reach war casualties more quickly.
The first responding team, led by Purdy Officer Russ Nichols, entered through the locker room door, cornered and shot one of the shooters in the gym. They then began carefully working their way through the building, checking for locked doors, trying to speak with injured parties in the halls. One victim, with a neck wound, could only make raspy sounds.
A second team of two officers from the county arrived shortly after the first and gained access through the gym atrium. The lead officer said he would have broken the door if necessary to enter. The two teams of officers merged, taking defensive positioning as they advanced, meeting the second active shooter in the elementary hallway, where shots were exchanged. The second team led the advance this time, ultimately securing a suspect.
Officers were unsure that only two shooters were involved. Consequently, as more help arrived, officers gradually advanced down all the halls, some multiple times, looking for possible hiders. Casualties were taken to the school gym.
Nichols conceded that in a high tension scenario, it would have been easy for an officer to open fire on bystander sticking his head around a corner, making the response that much more difficult.
When the drill ended, administrators went room to room, unlocking sealed classrooms. Faculty assembled in the gym for a general debriefing.
Chancellor said during the last drill, it was discovered Purdy has three Room No. 2s. Hallway signs were subsequently erected, labeling specific halls with an alphabet designation. He expected that kind of fine tuning to occur with every drill. This time he instructed teachers to send an email with a head count of students to help track who might be missing or injured.
Several teachers noted they heard gunshots before they received the lockdown notice. Davis said that should be expected. In fact, if intruders shot at the main office first, a lockdown notice would likely not come at all.
While this week’s drill was more realistic, participants agreed that in a real situation, more people would wander the hallways, creating unexpected targets, and teachers would not likely huddle down as easily. Davis recalled another drill where teachers secured students in their rooms, but the children spent time watching the activity out the window in plain sight.
Chancellor advised faculty that the actual danger will likely last less than 10 minutes. It would take much longer for teams to secure the buildings and to reach all the teachers to extract them and their students from their rooms. In case of a real incident, students would be bussed to another larger site, likely to Monett or Cassville, for reunification with family. Lowe noted that the school would be a sealed crime scene. Chancellor said officers would have to keep people from coming on campus, and especially keep other vehicles out of the school parking lot.
“Any time we can get these people [the emergency responders] in our school, and get them familiar with the hallways, that’s a good thing,” Chancellor said. “You can’t plan for crazy people. That’s why they’re crazy. We just have to do our due diligence.”
Chancellor said more drills will be held. He would like to move toward having an exercise with students. Those who participated in the exercise received a round of applause from faculty at the conclusion.