ORONO, Maine — Simulated gunfire and screams for help tore through the halls of Orono High School on Saturday, as future emergency responders prepared for tragedies they hope they won’t ever have to deal with in real life.
Nearly 100 Husson University students, led by their instructors and Orono Police Department personnel, held a day of active shooting drills inside the high school. Each hour, students were thrown into a different scenario involving an active shooter and victims in the school. They handled everything from the immediate police response to triage of victims and counseling of witnesses.
Around 10 a.m., the first shots rang out in the school’s lobby. The fire alarm blared moments later. Husson students laid on the ground in the lobby and hallways, tagged with Post-it notes listing their invented injuries and heart rates. Other students hid away in classrooms as the “lockdown” announcement aired over the loudspeakers.
Then a whistle blew, and a team of four Husson criminal justice students studying to become law enforcement officers was allowed into the lobby and pursued the suspected shooter, who had disappeared down the hall leaving a trail of fake injured and dead in his wake.
The cadets wore masks and vests to protect from the wax rounds fired by the scenario’s assailant, who also wore protective clothing and carried a training revolver and training handgun of his own.
As the cadets advanced, they cleared classrooms looking for the shooter. The shooter was hidden around a corner in the hallway and opened fire when the response team got close, striking one of the officers before he ran out of ammunition and was hit in the leg. He dropped his gun and surrendered.
For security reasons, anyone who entered the building Saturday was patted down and checked for weapons before being allowed entry.
“Hopefully this never happens for real,” but in today’s world, emergency responders have to be prepared for anything, said Travis Luce, a Husson sophomore studying criminal justice.
“This stuff does happen all across the country,” no matter how large or small the community, said Ryan Bailey of Bucksport, another Husson criminal justice sophomore
Both Luce and Bailey said they hope to become Maine State Police Troopers.
After the gunfire stopped, Husson nursing students were sent to the school’s lobby to assess the condition of victims. Based on the injuries on the Post-it notes, the nursing students placed green, yellow, red or black tags on the wounded.
Green means the individual is OK and can walk away. Yellow means the victim needs medical help, but can wait. Red indicates the person needs immediate medical attention. Black means the individual is deceased or can’t be helped.
“You can talk about this until the cows come home, but it doesn’t mean anything until you experience it,” said Debbie Whittemore, a community health teacher at Husson.
After the triage cleared, students from Husson’s criminology program dressed in white full-body suits and wearing booties over their shoes stepped in to investigate the crime scene and gather evidence. A victim lay between two trashcans in the cafeteria, with bullet casings and other evidence scattered around the room. That investigation served as their final exam.
Husson students have collaborated with police, fire and medical crews before for drills to bring what is learned in the classroom to life, but never for an event of this scale that brought so many facets of a disaster response into the same building, instructors said.
The drills help students “learn about the survival mindset when it comes to an active shooter scenario,” said Orono police Sgt. Scott Wilcox.
In the second shooting sequence, which began about an hour after the first, there was another lockdown after multiple shots were fired inside the school. This time, there were two shooters. One was laying in wait in a darkened classroom to ambush the cadets who responded.
As four cadets swept down the hallway in formation, one of the shooters jumped out of a classroom after they passed. The rear-facing cadet was looking over his shoulder and didn’t see the shooter in time. The shooter fired, striking the rear cadet before his colleagues could turn to return fire.
With one cadet down, his colleagues continued down the hall, where they encountered the second shooter and exchanged gunfire. The second shooter said afterward that he hit two of the cadets before they hit him. In the end, the cadets neutralized the shooters, but three of the four were shot in the process.
“Obviously, we’d like to see it fail in here rather than out there,” said Cameron Barrieau, a 21-year-old Rumford native and criminal justice student at Husson who acted as one of the shooters in the second scenario.
The drills were planned well in advance of the Boston Marathon bombings and the fast-paced police investigation that followed. Wilcox said the week’s events served to bring home the importance of this emergency training to the futures of these students.
“What people need to know is that this can happen anywhere,” Wilcox said, and training can make all the difference.