Active shooter training at Hamshire-Fannett

Photos by Sharon Brooks

“I mean, how many school shootings have there been in the nation?”

Melinda Walker, a science teacher at Hamshire-Fannett Middle School, posed that question during a training course. The answer to her question may shock you. reports 14 incidents of school shootings in 2016 alone, but according to a list compiled by nonprofit anti-gun violence advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, there were many more. Including accidental shootings and incidents of guns fired on campuses in which injuries were not sustained, there have been more than 200 school shootings since 2013. A report from 2013 indicates the FBI identified 160 active shooter incidents that occurred in the United States between 2000 and 2013, including incidents at school campuses.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office Deputy James Riley was at the Hamshire-Fannett Intermediate School on Jan. 3 to train teachers and school staff on how to react in the event of an active-shooter incident on their campuses.

“Now, more than ever, schools have to be prepared for the worst,” said Riley. “This training is to help teachers and school staff learn what they can do in an active shooter event in order for them to keep the students and themselves safe.”  According to Riley, schools and movie theaters are prime targets for mass shootings as the shooters in those incidents generally seem to want to do the most damage and have no specific target.

Hamshire-Fannett Middle School science teacher Melinda Walker said she’s happy to attend the course, which was required by the district. To her knowledge, no students have brought weapons to schools in her district, but Walker was quick to point out that guns are widely accessible in the rural community.

“They all hunt and fish, and they’re all outdoorsmen, so they’re very familiar with guns,” said Walker. “I think this will be helpful. It will show us as teachers what our responses in the classroom should be with our students. How are we going to keep them safe in our class?”

Heather Colston, secretary at the middle school, feels the training provided by JCSO will allow her to act quickly and decisively if the worst were to happen, and that has value considering she would likely be the first person encountered by a gunman.

“This training is very important so that we will know what to do to keep the kids safe in this type of situation, or any situation,” said Colston.

Riley said there has been a major increase in school shootings over the last 16 years or so, and it all started with the Columbine High School massacre that occurred April 20, 1999.

In that incident, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold, both high school seniors in Columbine, Colorado, opened fire on staff and students at the school in an unprecedented attack. The two were armed with an Intratec TEC-DC9, a Hi-Point 995 Carbine, a Savage 67H pump-action shotgun, a Stevens 311D double barreled sawed-off shotgun, 99 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and four knives. They had two large propane bombs in duffle bags in the cafeteria, and each had a bomb rigged to detonate in their personal vehicles parked outside the school cafeteria. They ultimately killed 12 students and one teacher, and 24 people were injured.

Riley showed the obviously moved class a video dramatization that utilized actual audio from the shooting. The perpetrators are heard taunting students and laughing. Their conversation is punctuated by gunfire from an assault rifle and a shotgun. The dramatization ends with the two shooting and killing themselves.

That was just the beginning of a deadly trend, said Riley. 

Of the 14 incidents in 2016, the majority seem to have resulted from disputes between two students, but in many instances multiple individuals were killed or injured. 

Feb. 29, 2016, 14-year-old James Austin Hancock opened fire at the Madison Middle School cafeteria with a .380-caliber handgun. Two students, 15-year-old Cameron Smith and 14-year-old Cooper Caffrey, were shot while 15-year-old Brant Murray and 14-year-old Katherine Douchette suffered shrapnel injuries. 

Hancock was apprehended in a nearby wooded field a short time after the shooting. 

Two students and one teacher were wounded when a teen opened fire at the Townville Elementary School playground in Townville, South Carolina, on Sept. 28, 2016. The juvenile suspect’s father was found dead at his home soon after the shooting. One of the victims, 6-year-old Jacob Hall, died three days after the shooting. The juvenile was charged with murder. 

Riley said the best thing to do if faced with an active shooter situation is to run.

“If you can get out of the building safely, then do it, and encourage others to do the same,” he advised. “If you can’t run, hide. If you are in a room, turn off the lights and lock the doors. Stay out of view. Drywall won’t stop the bullets, but you can hide.”

Riley said shooters have been seen in surveillance videos trying doors and giving up once finding them locked.

“The last thing you want to do is fight, but sometimes you don’t have a choice. Go for the eyes, the throat, the groin. Go for the eyes first if you can. … It’s not like in the movies where you hit a guy one time and he goes down, unconscious. Keep hitting him. Get mad dog mean.”

Riley said if it comes to fighting, look for an improvised weapon, and, “If you work as a group, your chances are better.”

Riley and other training officers showed videos and provided important information to the group gathered at the school Jan. 3. They also demonstrated the sounds that staff could hear if a shooting were to occur on-campus. The deputies fired a handgun, a rifle and a shotgun outside the school and then in the halls to familiarize staff with the varying reports of the weapons.

JCSO Deputy Tom Patterson, one of the active shooter course trainers who assisted with the Hamshire-Fannett ISD presentation, said it is important to be able to quickly differentiate the sound of gunfire from “the backfire of a car” or other loud noises.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum at Hamshire-Fannett ISD Jon Burris organized the training event to further train staff on emergency response.

“With everything you see in this day and time, we wanted to do it for the safety of the school, the safety of the kids,” said Burris. “We’ve had emergency operations procedures training at the different campuses, but we’ve never had the actual training on what it sounds like, which is something we wanted to do. The bottom line is, we’re doing this for the safety of our kids and our community.”

JSCO’s Riley and officers with the Beaumont Police Department perform active shooter training courses upon request. To get into a class or to organize a class for your business or school, contact Deputy Riley at (409) 839-2368, or call the BPD at (409) 880-3825. It’s a call that could save your life.