An armed gunman stood at the front of an Eastlake High School classroom last Friday afternoon, while students huddled at their desks with their heads hidden in their arms. A team of police officers bursts through the classroom door and took down the shooter in a flurry of bullets.
The students, the police and the lessons learned were real, but the “bullets” and guns were actually “simmunition” weapons and paint pellets used in the annual training for King County Sheriff’s deputies on contract city police forces. Eastlake and other schools in the area have hosted the training sessions in recent years so that officers can run through countless scenarios so that they’ll be prepared if there is ever a school shooting or similar threat at another public location, such as a shopping center or office building.
The Active Shooter and Patrol (ASAP) training was developed by Kenmore deputy Nicholas Minzghor, in cooperation with others. Last week’s session included officers from Sammamish, Woodinville, Kenmore and Shoreline. Sammamish Sgt. Bob Baxter said nine Sammamish officers, including supervisors and school resource officers, participated.
“Before Columbine, patrol officers would respond, then wait for SWAT teams to arrive,” said Woodinville Master Police Officer Tracy Owen, one of the instructors for the training. “Now the teams are trained to respond to any kind of active shooter … respond and neutralize the threat.”
The training sessions take 40 hours over three weeks. It’s repeated every year for new officers, transfers or any officer who hasn’t taken it recently.
“It’s one of those things where if you don’t use it, you lose it,” Owen said. “These are high-stress situations that we don’t deal with every day.”
This year’s training had 27 students, and culminated with a full day of running through different scenarios at Eastlake. About 35 community volunteers — including a large contingent of Eastlake students — played the roles of students, hostages and, sometimes also portrayed shooters. The volunteers all wore protective glasses, masks, and other gear.
At the beginning of each scenario, an officer playing the dispatcher would send out terse bouts of information over the teams’ radios. “All units, all units: We have an active shooter at Eastlake High School. We have shots fired,” he called.
Inside the classroom with the “shooter,” the student actors let out screams and yells for help. When the team of officers plows through the door, the “shooter” pulls the trigger of a handgun-style paintball gun a few times, but is blasted repeatedly by the officers and goes down quickly. The officers make quick work of sorting out the “students” in the class, checking them for weapons to ensure that there isn’t another hidden shooter.
Xandra Sether, a 16-year-old from Bothell High School, has volunteered before – her dad is the chief of police in Kenmore, so she helps out when needed. But, it doesn’t get old, she said. “It’s still fun – really fun.”
Nick Jensen, a 16-year-old Eastlake student who gave up his Friday to help out as a role player, said, “I would say if there’s a school shooting at Eastlake, the police will probably light them up. They’re well trained.”
Erik McClure, another 16-year-old Eastlake student, agreed. “It shows that they’re really prepared for these kinds of things.”