“Check door left, check right door,” they yelled, quickly moving from door to door inside Wellington High School.
The black-clad police officers were bunched together, weapons pointing in all directions as they cleared the hallways, looking for a shooter.
Don’t worry — it was a drill.
But for the patrolmen and teachers involved Monday, it was a very real way to prepare for danger.
“This year the state of Ohio made it mandatory that every school staff member go through active shooter training. So instead of us just coming in and talking to them, we’re going to provide more of a hands-on experience,” said Wellington police Lt. Jeff Shelton.
“This is the first time this has been performed in Wellington, and the first time the teachers here have been through this sort of training,” he said.
The training came just days after Westwood Elementary School was locked down. A custodian at the school reportedly saw someone believed to be carrying a gun. Police said the lockdown was related to a person with a knife at a nearby trailer park.
Taking part in Monday’s drills were Wellington, LaGrange, and Oberlin police, the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office, and the Ohio State Highway Patrol. Many of the officers also serve on the county SWAT team. Village fire officials were also on hand, wearing neon vests to observe.
The role-players ran through three scenarios to prepare for disaster.
Shelton kept the mood light but focused on real dangers — that atmosphere is likely to darken this fall when staff run through more comprehensive play-acting drills to sharpen their responses.
To set everyone at ease and be safe, police carried plastic-molded fake guns. They went through a triple pat-down outside to make sure no real weapons or ammunition were being used.
To start, teachers gathered in the hallways, their nervous energy evident as they waited for a “shooter” to emerge. About 20 minutes later, “armed” officers entered in careful formation, moving slowly down the hallways and painstakingly checking doorways.
Shelton bristled at finding certain doors and rooms unlocked, warning educators of vulnerable points of entry to the high school.
An intruder’s logical first goal would be taking out the school resource officer, he warned.
“Once you have someone inside the school and they have a plan, there’s going to be three or four people killed,” Shelton said.
Another scenario in the Dukes gym showed how noise can confuse everyone and allow an intruder to slip through the chaos.
But the most difficult scenario for both officers and teachers was the last, in which educators posed as injured students lying on hallway and classroom floors and calling for help.
“We’re bleeding! Help!” they shouted as police advanced with sidearms drawn. Officers stepped quickly over the wounded, calling out as two “shooters” were killed, one on each side of the building.
Teachers were extremely uncomfortable with the idea that they or their students would be left behind in such a situation but that’s an aspect of ALICE training.
That stands for Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Confront, and Evacuate — and it’s the now-most-common method used for school emergency response in Ohio.
Shelton’s best advice to teacher: If you’re in your room, lock it down and barricade the door.
There’s only one known occurrence when a shooter has left a school of his own accord, he said. That was last year in Hamilton County. The intruder was later apprehended by the school officer.
A shooter usually has a death wish and aims to be killed by police, Shelton said.
In a debriefing after the practice runs, Shelton opened the floor for educators to talk about weaknesses and concerns they spotted during the drills.
WHS principal Tina Drake said her building has a problem with doors and windows being left open. She also worries someone could easily enter the high school during a sports practice when coaches have their guards down and stash weapons to use the next day, so vigilance is important.
Shelton said just two weeks ago a WHS door was found propped open with sticks, raising police alarm.
Wellington officers search schools when they find doors hanging open or when late night lights raise suspicions, he said.
Shelton also said he knows teachers don’t like students having cell phones in class. But in Chardon, those phones were what alerted police to the shooter, T.J. Lane, in which three people were killed.
Teacher Dave Conklin said he found the training useful.
“Through this sort of training, we can develop a little bit of muscle memory so that if heaven forbid this really happened, we can behave in a way that will improve our chances of surviving and dealing with the shooter,” he said.
Drake said the drills were the result of planning by Shelton in response to the new state law. Both agreed it was too early to involve students in the exercises.
“The reality of knowing that this happens is scary and sad but we need to be prepared,” Drake said. “It’s good to do a drill because it shows us what we need to do and what we need to improve on to ensure safety for everyone.”
She and Wellington Schools superintendent Dennis Mock said the goal is to make the drills more in-depth and realistic with each passing year.
Look for that to happen this fall when school resumes. Mock said he plans to have teachers and police stage more elaborate scenarios to test their responses.
Jason Hawk and Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171, @EditorHawk and @DelozierNews, or firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
Photos by Jason Hawk and Jonathan Delozier | Wellington Enterprise LaGrange police peer around a corner inside Wellington High School during a training exercise Monday. The active shooter scenario tested how both officers and teachers responded to potential threats inside the building.