ELIZABETHTOWN — As church bells in town signaled the noon hour on Friday, shots began ringing out in the hallway of Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy. Seven shots in all.
“This is an Academy lockdown … shelter in place,” blared over and over on the school’s loudspeaker.
Within 4 minutes, the first deputy from the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office arrived and, within moments, the school campus was swarming with law enforcement, EMS and fire personnel.
The entire event was a staged “active shooter training,” but every individual participating acted as if it were the real thing.
“We call this an integrated asset response, where law enforcement, fire and EMS all work together,” explained Sgt. Gary Turlington, a specialized training supervisor with the Sheriff’s Office. “It’s the first of its kind here and it’s important because, together, we can do much better.”
Turlington said the goal of the training is to be able to get anyone who is injured out quickly and to “extricate all of the children as soon as possible.” He added that these kinds of things usually happen either early in the morning, at lunchtime or when school gets out.
The drill actually began at Elizabethtown Middle School, where all agencies met for a briefing and to remove all live ammunition from their weapons. All those involved were told they would be focused on securing the building and area, remove the injured and others, then keep the students protected once outside.
All responding agencies were also told they would be sent to the scene in a staggered order, in an effort to keep response times as realistic as possible.
“We can’t just send everyone to the scene at one time, because it would never happen that way,” Turlington said.
Although many of the students had been sent home early, dozens remained behind to act as injured, uninjured and even as the lone shooter — though responding law enforcement approached the situation as if there were multiple shooters.
“We can’t ever consider a building clear,” Turlington said. “We don’t know how many shooters there may be or where they may be.”
Within 20 minutes, those teachers and students in the school had been removed to an adjoining field, and the injured were being attended to. There were several students with injuries ranging from stabbings to shootings. The gunman had quickly been taken down by a deputy’s gunfire and was laying on the hallway floor — he was still alive and waiting for medical attention.
By 12:30 p.m., the incident was considered over.
“I think the student body and the lockdown was exceptional,” Turlington said. “There are some things we can improve on, but everything happened in an exceptional amount of time.
“But the most important thing is their safety,” he added, pointing at the students. “You can see we have law enforcement all around them, with ambulances and fire trucks between them and the school.”
Observing the entire drill from inside and outside the school was Headmaster Roland McKoy was impressed with what he saw.
“It’s too bad we have to practice something like this,” he said, “but it seemed like the kids were out quickly. Overall, I’m well pleased and glad we now have this experience.”
Participating in the “active shooter training” were personnel from the Sheriff’s Office, Elizabethtown Police Department, North Carolina State Highway Patrol, White Lake Fire Department, Cape Fear Valley LifeLINK Air Ambulance, Bladen County EMS, Bladen County Rescue, Bladen County Emergency Management, Elizabethtown EMS, Tar Heel EMS, Bladen County Hospital, Elizabethtown Fire Department and Bladen County Advanced Life Support.
Turlington said the entire drill would be critiqued among all those who participated.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached at 910-862-4163 or firstname.lastname@example.org.