Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

April 17, 2014

Sheriff's Office conducts training exercise

By Michael Canfield michael.canfield@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — It started out with a loud bang, and then another bang, as two gunmen ran through DeSales Catholic School Wednesday morning, firing their weapons and screaming.

“I want to kill everyone,” one of the shooters yelled. “I’m going to kill you!”

Within minutes, there were other voices, this time from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Response Team. 

“Show your hands,” team members yelled at observers and civilians. 

Soon, after more gunfire, one of the several response teams sent into the school had a suspect in custody in the school’s dimly lit cafeteria. A few minutes later, word came through that the second shooter was in custody on the third floor. Everyone involved took a deep breath and started preparing for the second training exercise of the morning.

While the active shooter drill at DeSales Catholic School Wednesday morning was practice for the real thing, everyone involved, from the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office to the parents and teachers who volunteered their time to play victims, were completely serious. 

“It’s important for the team and the responding officers to keep up on their skills and what they have to do when they come into an active shooter type situation,” said Sgt. James Hildreth, one of the team leaders on the Emergency Response Team. 

The Sheriff’s Office conducted three drills. One involved a dog searching for a suspect outside of the school. The other two involved active shooter scenarios in the school.

DeSales decided to bring the Sheriff’s Office in to do the drill after a threat vulnerability study was done at the school, said Principal Scott Fike. 

“We’ve been making some changes over the past year,” he said, adding that the school also formed a safety committee with two members of the Sheriff’s Office serving on it. 

The two members told Fike that the Sheriff’s Office practices active shooter situations once a month, and that they’re always looking for new places to go.

“As soon as I heard that, I immediately volunteered the school,” he said. 

The biggest thing for the school, Fike said, is the piece of mind that comes with knowing the drill was successful in the school.

“We wanted the swat team to be familiar with our school,” he said. “We wanted to feel safe in the sense that they know what’s going on in this building.”

Several teachers, administrators and parents took part in the drill, playing the role of victims or passing on tidbits of information to the response team. For the teachers, taking part meant giving up a day of Easter vacation. 

“I thought it would be beneficial to participate,” said fourth grade teacher Cheryl Caldwell. “It’s very sobering.”

Stephanie Thurston is a 14-year Army veteran who has a daughter in kindergarten at DeSales. She’s also part of the school’s safety committee. For her, the tragedy in Sandy Hook in December 2012 is what got her involved in the school’s security.

“I jumped at the opportunity to be involved,” she said, noting that her injury in the drill was the loss of her leg. “It’s unfortunate that we have to think about this, but these are the times.”

The school received a lot of good feedback on the drill from parents, said Marketing Director Ellen Roth. Still, she said, the school would rather not have to do drills like this. 

“It’s sad to say that it’s just become such a priority now in education,” she said. “An incident is very remote, but we want to be prepared.”

Contact reporter Michael Canfield at 439-9222, ext. 6246, or follow him on Twitter @MikeCanfield36.