Ready for the worst: Cape police train for shooter at Central High

Wednesday, July 9, 2008
Nita DuBose posed with a gun as she played the enemy threat in a Special Response Team training scenario Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at Cape Central High.

Patrolman Mike Kidd keeps pictures of his 6-year-old son, Cash, and himself making silly faces in his squad car to remind him of what he gets to go home to. The training sessions held Tuesday at Cape Girardeau Central High School prepared him for the danger that could keep him from coming home at all.

"I've never been in live fire," Kidd said. "You just go with what you know and trust your guys."

Kidd was one of nine members in the Cape Girardeau Police Department Special Response Team who participated Tuesday in simulation training sessions at Central High School. From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the team practiced simulated sessions of active-shooter training in order to familiarize them with the school's layout.

"Any building where there might be masses of people, it's important to have a plan in place and to know how it's acted," said Sgt. Barry Hovis of the Cape Girardeau Police Department. "It's better for a person to practice, and make them more effective with the real situation."

This kind of practice isn't new to the team, which practiced in the alternative school in 2004.

"The term 'active-shooter training' was coined after Columbine," Hovis said, who also cited the shootings in Jonesboro, Ark., and Heath, Ky., as precedents for the team's first training session in 2004.

Hovis said "time is of the essence" in these training simulations. The training session is meant to teach the team how to draw the shooter's attention away from the hostages and toward the police officers, he said. The team is first directed to head for the shooter and then comes back to help victims and secure the area.

KIT DOYLE ~ Volunteer hostages laid on the floor as Cape Girardeau Police Department's Special Response Team engaged a threat with paint bullets during training scenarios Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at Cape Central High School.

"At Columbine, some officers waited to go inside," Hovis said. "And if two or three had gotten together in a small team and pinned down the killers, they could've prevented the shooters from killing more."

Simulations involved running drills the team thought could be expected in active-shooter situations. One simulation involved the team attempting to secure a group of people with an unknown shooter among them. Another simulation involved two shooters in two bathrooms. Police officers had to make sure their backs were protected from the other shooter when they committed to one of the bathrooms.

Volunteers came from the public, including eight faculty members at the high school. All volunteers acting as shooters wore helmets and protective vests and carried six-shooters with paintballs. Before afternoon simulations began, team members patted each other down to make sure they didn't have live ammunition, knives, explosives or other deadly weapons. Team members used blue paintball handguns to help simulate a live firing session.

Pete Frazier, assistant principal in charge of school safety and security plans at the high school, said past school shootings and a bomb threat at Central Junior High School last August, which didn't hurt anybody, alerted him to a potential danger at the high school.

"How many times did I say 'put the gun down'?" joked Ike Hammonds, left, of the Special Response Team, with volunteer Nita DuBose following a training scenario in which DuBose acted as the threat and was shot with paintballs when she failed to drop her gun. Cape Girardeau's Special Response Team trained Tuesday at Central High School.

"I don't think we're good stewards unless we take the precaution that every school could be a dangerous school," Frazier said.

He said the high school is just as vulnerable as other schools because the variety of school shootings show they could happen anywhere.

Frazier said the team had never trained in the school before and he wanted them to be familiar with it, though he said the high school has never received any threats in the three years he's been assistant principal. In the eight years he's worked for the school, he said, he's never seen a gun at the school, either.

About once a year the high school practices "intruder lockdown drills" in which teachers lead students to an isolated place and tell them to be quiet, Frazier said.

AARON EISENHAUER ~ Members of the Cape Girardeau Police Department's Special Response Team train with paint guns and mock hostage situations on Tuesday, July 8, 2008 at Cape Central High School.

For members of the team it was essential that they were mentally prepared for the event. Cpl. Ike Hammonds of the team said he had made up his mind a long time ago about what he would do in a hostile high school situation.

"The fact they're 17 years old isn't a problem," Hammonds said. "They're a threat, and I'm here to take care of the threat. If I don't take them out, they'll take me out. I'll deal with my conscience later."

Hammonds said it was great Tuesday's simulations involved younger people. He said he had to be ready to deal with shooting younger people, because a shooter in a high school would probably be a teenage boy.

Nita DuBose, a physics teacher at the high school, participated in the simulations. She said the experience was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

KIT DOYLE ~ Sarah Hopkins fled from the bathroom during training with the Special Response Team to add a realistic component of panicking students Tuesday, July 8, 2008, at Cape Central High School.

"I get to see it from the perspective of a hostage and a teacher," DuBose said.

She said the gunshots made her feel like she could be shot at.

"You let them know you're a hostage," she said.

As a teacher, she said, there could be this kind of hostile situation because the building is so big and has so many corners.

The simulation allowed for some lighter moments.

"Show me your hands!" an officer yelled. "On your feet!"

Patrolman Barry Hovis acted like he was handcuffed and walked out.

"This is a bad guy," a team member jokingly said about Hovis.


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