Everyone knew it wasn’t real. Yet the voice of authority that echoed throughout the halls and classrooms of Mingo Central High School early Monday, warning teachers and students that an active shooter was now in the building, made it eerily convincing.
The designated bad guy, moving deliberately throughout the hallway while yelling and believably trying to push and/or kick in doors of the classrooms on the second floor also seemed like a real situation happening in real time.
But none of it was real. What it was intended to be and what resulted was one of several well-organized and orchestrated drills that all of Mingo County’s schools already have or are yet to participate in during the county’s Safety Week.
During the week, designated Oct. 21-28, the safety and prevention activities included the active shooter drills, as well as fire drills, tornado drills and body safety lessons at all Mingo County schools.
Superintendent Don Spence said Safety Week was a means for Mingo County to be in compliance with two bills passed earlier this year by the West Virginia Legislature, specifically HB 4402 and HB 2541, whose mandates and ultimate goals are intended to protect students and school personnel, save lives and reduce injuries.
“When this legislation was passed, I said let’s just have a Safety Week when we could not only comply with the state mandates but more importantly have a week when we could educate our staff and students, to bring about awareness, and to put in to place as close to absolute safety in our schools as we possibly can,” he said during an interview with the Messenger last week.
During Monday’s active intruder drill at Mingo Central, the pretend perpetrator was placed at two different locations inside the school at different times so he could be closely monitored by security cameras, which in turn would give administrative personnel the opportunity to track and report his location in real time and then relay that information via intercom to teachers and students.
MCHS CTE Administrator Marcella Charles-Casto, along with the county’s Coordinator of Counseling and Testing Leisa Sammons, attended an active shooter training seminar in Somerset, Kentucky in late August.
After completion of the repetitive drills and preparedness training, which Charles-Casto said experts believe can make all the difference in an active shooter event, the two returned to Mingo County where they shared that training with the county’s administrators and teachers.
Along with routine lockdowns, Charles-Casto explained, authorities are now also recommending well-rehearsed evacuation exercises as well as “counter” drills, which include throwing objects like books at a shooter as a proactive means to possibly throw him off balance and upset his ability to effectively aim and shoot once he has breached a room or area where students and school personnel are congregated.
“Like fire and tornado drills, which have become routine for schools, the experts are saying that if we get good enough with the active intruder drills we can greatly reduce the impact of and even prevent these incidents,” she said. “I’m not personally certain we can prevent them altogether, but I’m definitely sure this will greatly help in minimizing casualties as much as we humanly can, and if we can do that then it’s certainly worth every ounce of effort we can put into it.”
West Virginia State Fire Marshal and Matewan VFD Chief Bryan Casto, whose office along with the Mingo County Sheriff’s Dept., the West Virginia State Police, Mingo County Emergency Management Director Doug Goolsby and the Delbarton, Matewan, Chattaroy and Gilbert volunteer fire departments helped facilitate Mingo Central’s drill, also believes the exercises can go a long way toward at least mitigating the number of deaths and injuries that typically result in a school shooting.
“Schools have for years had fire drills and become so well-prepared for fires that it’s now second nature to them,” he said.
“In fact, since the Fire Marshal’s Office first began inspecting and maintaining schools after the office was established in 1909, there has not been one fire-related fatality in any of West Virginia’s schools.
“That says a lot because it shows that when the schools are well-rehearsed and prepared for any emergency, they can greatly minimize if not eliminate a tragic outcome.”
MCHS 11th grade student Ali Wolford said although she’d like to think a school shooting would never happen in Mingo County, she knows it could easily become a nightmarish reality at any time, as well as end just as tragically as it has at other schools, unless school personnel and students become better prepared for it.
“I’ve been doing active shooter drills, which has always been the hunker down, hide kind of thing, for most of my years in school, so I guess we’ve always believed it could possibly happen here,” she said.
“Well now we all know it can definitely happen here, which is why I’m glad they’ve changed the drill because it gives us more of a chance to be in control of the situation and actually be able to do something more than just hide in a room and hope that he doesn’t get in.”