VIDEO: Fake gunshots, fake blood, but Grafton school shooting drill felt realHearing sound of guns and screams in the hallway left many participants shaken. As school shootings make headlines nationwide, drills like the one in Grafton that better arm schools with safety techniques have gained greater significance.
By: Jennifer Johnson, Grand Forks Herald
GRAFTON, N.D. — Two gunshots rang out Thursday morning at Grafton High School, then one more.
A hooded man, dressed in hiking boots and jeans, had pulled out an 8 mm pistol and shot blanks toward two students. The actor strode with determination around the school as he angrily jiggled locked door handles and banged on doors, with only his eyes visible above a black face mask.
Less than two minutes after the first gunshot was fired, a simulated emergency message filled the loudspeakers: “Can I have your attention please in the building? We have an intruder, we have a shooter, we need to go into complete lockdown at this time.”
As school shootings make headlines nationwide, drills like the one in Grafton that better arm schools with safety techniques have gained greater significance.
Ever since the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Conn., the number of requests for mock shooting drills has doubled, according to Wenck Associates, the Mandan, N.D., -based emergency preparedness consulting firm used by Grafton.
For the drill, a gunman roamed the building during a lockdown while local law enforcement, emergency management services and faculty responded. Students were not present for the drill, which also took place at the middle school.
Driving the drill that day was the story behind the shooter, a man in his 20s who wants to kill his teenage ex-girlfriend for breaking up with him. Taylor Ensrude, 17, took on the role and received a serious neck wound after being the first student shot.
“I’m excited because... I’ll get to see what it would be like,” she said before the drill. “But again, it’ll be pretty scary because they’re going to make it pretty real.”
The drama was heightened by the fact that faculty and staff knew very few details about the event.
“They just knew there was going to be a school shooting kind of thing, and they were going to go into lockdown,” said Derek Hanson, spokesman for Wenck Associates.
Within an hour, the shooter had claimed the lives of four students and staff, and got shot himself by police in the bathroom. Four injured students were taken to the hospital by ambulance.
Several faculty and students volunteered to be victims, who were painted in fake blood and wounds. Some ran around the building and pounded on doors, begging to be let in. Screams accompanied the sounds of gunshot in several areas of the building.
Some faculty, who were instructed to keep the doors locked under any circumstance, said not responding to the pleas of a student was difficult. Linda Thorson, a special education teacher who’s taught for 27 years, said she grew emotional and the teacher next to her cried.
“You’re wondering why can’t you let the person in, and in reality, it would be very difficult,” she said. “You’re in this profession because you want to be a provider, a protector, and they’re asking you not to do that.”
Law enforcement also had to act against instinct. Several police officers arrived on scene within 10 minutes of the gunshot, methodically checking at least 50 rooms in the building before attending to victims. Several times, they passed within a foot of students who were crying out in pain. But their first task was to ensure danger had passed before emergency workers could move in.
Some who experienced the drill for the first time were left shaken.
Lana Hylden, a learning disabilities teacher, said it triggered memories of a former school she worked at in North Dakota, where a high school senior wanted to kill the superintendent. She witnessed him asking other students for a weapon and reported it. The student didn’t have access to a weapon so the police came to get him at the school, which she declined to name.
Hylden, who has taught 30 years, isn’t easily deterred by violence. She was raised in a violent home and had seen guns pulled there, she said, but she was upset over the incident.
“I know I did the right thing by reporting it, but what if there was something I could have done?” she said. “I’m glad the student didn’t get access to gun and he wasn’t able to follow through with it, but he was in the mental state that day. He would have carried through if he was able to get a weapon.”
She’s glad the student body wasn’t present during the drill and be exposed to even more violence.
“They don’t need access to this, but unfortunately, a lot of children listen to violent shows and they see this often,” she said.
High school principal Darren Albrecht said the first drill six years ago was “a little more nerve-wracking” but this time around he was prepared. Funding for the event cost the district around $600, mostly offset by grants.
At the end of the drill, more than 70 people filed into the library for a debriefing of the event. The school’s safety committee will take note of the improvements and incorporate the information into its emergency plan.
Legislation passed in 2011 requires North Dakota schools to hold emergency and disaster drills every year.
Thorson said she probably wouldn’t eat for the rest of the day.
“You can envision this happening,” Thorson said. “I think I’ll have nightmares.”
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