Hysteria and paintballs

Rapid shots from a fully automatic weapon accompanied by the screams of children reverberated throughout the largely empty halls and closed and locked classrooms at Surrey Public School Wednesday.

It was a mock school shooting demonstration for area law enforcement and other emergency responders to train and test their ability to respond to a real tragedy like this.

“It’s not new to the state but this is something new we’ve done in Ward County,” said Amanda Schooling, the emergency manager for Ward County, of Wednesday’s mock shooting and of two others, in Bottineau and Devils Lake, that took place earlier this year. “We do hope to do one a year in perhaps different schools.”

Realism was key for the training and evaluation of emergency responders to the mock tragedy. Variables included hysterical, concerned “parents” banging on classroom doors or screaming for their children down hallways before being removed by police. The loudspeaker of the gunfire would be sounded in different areas of the school to keep responders from knowing where the perpetrator was. And, perhaps most importantly, real guns were used.

“The weapons themselves are actually Glock-type weapons that are made to shoot paint projectiles that look like actual rounds,” said Sgt. Larry Hubbard of the Ward County Sheriff’s Department of the blue-colored pistols holstered in the participating officers belts. The rounds do look true to life, including standard metal casings.

“The weapons function the same way our normal weapons would without the sound. There is some small sound but not as much. But they still function,” he said, adding that the paint projectiles end the “‘You missed me, you hit me,'” arguments that may otherwise arise.

To adjust the throngs of volunteers to the event, Capt. John Klug of the Minot Police Department fired off a round into a trashcan in the multi-purpose room of the school prior to the event.

Then everyone took their stations. Volunteers stood in for secretaries and teachers, or were just playing fictional versions of themselves, and then the wait began. Classes operated like normal but when the sounds of screaming and gunfire sounded, teachers closed and locked their doors almost in unison.

Capt. Michael Nason, who played the perpetrator in the first of the day’s four stagings, rounded the corner of a hallway screaming and then began to bang on doors and see if any were locked while wearing some padding and a paintball mask.

Police had not been deployed yet and he had free range in the school to pick off his victims for about five to ten minutes before groups of police came looking for him.

In the ruckus a few officers were shot, including Lt. Josh Scherr of the Burlington Police Department, whose only experience with an event like this came from his studies at the police academy.

“Well, it hit me in the mask so it didn’t hurt too bad,” he said to The Minot Daily News after the event. “I got hit in the face first and then I got hit a couple places in the back.”

Eventually Nason was eliminated while taking the high-ground in the gymnasium, then police roamed the school looking for additional gunmen as they weren’t told how many there were in the simulation. Finding none, EMS crews moved through the building collecting “survivors.”

“I assumed the role the best that I can to bring our people to a level where they’re ready to respond to such a terrible thing,” Nason said to media after the event. “I think they did a fine job and I think I did my best being someone I’m not.”

Nason was hit in the hand right between the knuckles, as well as elsewhere on his body during a minutes-long shootout with responders.

“That’s alright,” he said of his injuries while covered in sweat from all the padding and the mask. “I’m good, that was fun. I’m ready to go again.”