Staff members, first responders practice mock school shooting scenario

It’s a community’s worst nightmare: someone with a gun goes into a school and starts shooting. That scenario unfolded at two schools in our area Monday, but it was only a drill.

The drill has been months in the making, to coordinate with all the involved agencies. The active shooter trainings at Stoddard Elementary School and De Soto’s Prairie View Elementary School serve as a painful reminder that a real school shooting can happen here.

“The scenario is going to begin,” said a staff worker over the announcement system.

Staff members were given characters to assume during the drill. They were told to act as if it was a regular school day.

All was going well until a shooter stormed the building.

“You guys are all in trouble now,” said the supposed gunman.

The gunman, who was portrayed by a sheriff department employee, fires off blanks before staff and students can react. He then left the room and searched for others down the hallway while people started to call 911.

“This is a drill, this is a drill only. Reports of an active shooter at Prairie View School,” said a law enforcement official over the radio.

The gunman was cornered in a bathroom when help arrives.

“Sheriffs department. Drop the weapon! Drop the weapon now! Drop the weapon,” the first responder yelled.

Within 15 minutes, the gunman was shot and arrested.

Meanwhile, others used security measures already in place to protect themselves. The district has security cameras, special locks and has fire extinguishers in every classroom to fight off an attacker.

“This year, we also equipped every classroom with a door-locking device that slides into a plate, into the floor,” said Linzi Gronning, superintendent for the De Soto Area Schools District.

Then, Emergency Medical Services arrived to assist the injured. The superintendent noticed how the rug prevented medics from dragging people out. It’s one of a few things they learned from this drill.

“There’s always something that comes up but, so far, we haven’t seen any major issue,” said Brandon Larson, director of Vernon County Emergency Management.

In just 36 minutes, the people portraying staff and would-be students were evacuated to a holding area, while others assessed the damage.

It’s a horrible situation to review. The superintendent wants this to remain just a drill for a crisis the district hopes will never happen.

“But if needed, [it] allows us to gain control of the situation and reduce the impact of injuries or death on any of the innocent people involved,” Gronning said.

Larson said the next step will be to make a formal action plan. They’ll be sharing some of the safe school training measures during an informational meeting with families in mid-August.

There will be another active shooter training exercise at the middle and high school at the end of August.