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Just in case: Sheriff's deputies prepare for worst case scenario at local high school

Sheriff's deputies hone skills during a school-shooting training simulation at Valencia High School

Posted: July 23, 2009 10:42 p.m.
Updated: July 24, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Sheriff's Deputy Keith Davis kneels beside a "wounded" high school student, Kalia Summerlin, 19, and her friend Kristi Kniest, 15, as they participate in a multiple gunman on a school campus training scenario at Valencia High School on Thursday.

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Matthew Kneist, 12, laid on the ground at Valencia High School, motionless.

When the gunfire began, he flinched.

"It sounded scary," he said. "It was hard."

The skinny boy wore a strip of duct tape across his blue T-shirt, which Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies had marked with a frowned face with X's for eyes. Kneist was one of about a dozen students who roleplayed fleeing, wounded or dead victims of a school shooter Thursday in an annual training exercise for Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

In the simulated school shooting, deputies had to rescue a wounded deputy and bloodied students while searching for one or more gunmen - armed with rifles and handguns loaded with blanks.

Thursday's scenario began with an injured deputy radioing in a distress call with a brief description of a suspect who shot him.

Moments later, the first team of deputies arrived: A five-person phalanx, fake guns drawn and pointed in every direction, moved in toward the downed deputy.

One man stayed behind to guard him while the rest moved on to find the shooter. They rounded a corner and suddenly, gunshots rang out.

The deputies jumped.

The blanks add an element of realism to the training exercise, and they tend to get the adrenaline pumping, said sheriff's Sgt. John Bomben.

Or, as Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station Capt. Anthony La Berge put it: "When you hear those rounds go off, there's no way to fake that."

Seconds later, a group of students started running toward the deputies, heading for the gate. The deputies had to keep calm enough to stop the students and ask them for information about the shooter, then report it over the radio for comrades who hadn't arrived yet.

There turned out to be three shooters. And as deputies found each of them, a gunfight ensued. Deputies screamed "Bang! Bang! Bang!" and the shooters went down.

Officials developed and mandated the program in the wake of the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in a suburb of Denver, in which a pair of heavily armed students killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded others before turning their guns on themselves.

After Thursday's exercise, a deputy told Kneist he could get back up.

"But I'm supposed to be dead," the boy said with a grin, exposing his braces.

Kneist told his mother he wanted to come back for another training exercise next week.

"The people who do (school shootings) are crazy, you know?" Kneist said. "Schools shouldn't be a place where guns are."

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