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Deputies train for school shooting

Posted: July 31, 2008 10:22 p.m.
Updated: October 2, 2008 5:01 a.m.

A Los Angeles Sheriff's Department COBRA unit member aims his rifle as he prepares to take part in the final training exercise of the day at Arroyo Seco Junior High.

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Thursday was just a training day for the sheriff’s deputies, but when the shots were fired at Arroyo Seco Junior High School, it was about as surreal as the real thing.

A gunman flung open the door of Building 800 on the south side of campus, fired three shots and ducked back inside.

“Shots fired, Arroyo Seco Junior High School,” the call crackled on the sheriff’s station radio frequency. “Sixty William two. Send me all available units.”

About 10 kids ran screaming down a dark hallway and pushed open the door, where deputies directed them to find a safe place. The four deputies with fake guns crept inside the building, down the dark hallway looking in all directions, and into the computer lab where another group of kids ran out of a classroom. The kids pointed behind and said, “He went that way!”

From the radios came a description: White male, white T-shirt and green shorts.

The deputies, clustered together, inched their way through the open doorway of Room 807, Mrs. Coate’s classroom. One deputy looked to the left and shouted, “Bang, bang!”

The gunman was hiding behind the door, perched on a filing cabinet.

Thursday’s training day using fake weapons and 17 children who volunteered was part of the Sheriff’s Department’s effort to train field deputies to respond to scenarios typically left to the SWAT teams. The Sheriff’s Department holds several sessions throughout the year for all the deputies to go through the training.

“This training is out of the norm for us. We generally are taught when we get to a location like this, we contain, set up a perimeter and call in SWAT,” said Detective Dan Finn with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station. “The training is to get deputies out of that mode and into a dynamic response mode.”

Following the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, the Sheriff’s Department began training deputies to respond to school shootings so the department can call on the field deputies closest to the scene to respond.

The second phase of Thursday’s training was to set up a mock school massacre in the center of campus where several kids had been shot, a few were wounded and some ran around in a panic.
The first three to five deputies on the scene formed the contact team.

Overall, the deputies did “really well,” Finn said, but some of them had a bit of “tunnel vision” and didn’t check some of the key places where a gunman could hide.

“In any stressful situation, you’re going to have tunnel vision,” Finn said. “You don’t need to pull out pencil drawers, but you’ve got to look under places where he can hunker down and hide.”

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