Lights flickered on and off overhead while the constant buzzing and ringing of the fire alarm continued to erupt in the background.
Meanwhile, the horrifying sounds of teenagers screaming in the hallways and random bursts of gunfire filled the air. During it all, Carroll County High School School Resource Officer and Cpl. Kevin Kemp tried to keep his composure despite the gunshot wound he had just suffered. As a tactical police unit cleared the area around him, he pointed officers toward the school bus area where the shooter had fled.
For most, it is a scenario straight out of the darkest nightmare. But for members of law enforcement, it is an ever-increasing possibility and threat that must be taken seriously. With utter chaos playing out in front of them, it was one of several scenarios approximately 30 officers approached with laser-like focus Thursday during active-shooter trainings at Carroll County High School.
“I was very pleased with it. I believe everyone put a total effort in from all agencies,” Kemp said, noting officers participated in the training from the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police and the Hillsville and Galax Police Departments. “Everyone worked together well. We were all there for one purpose – to prepare for any emergency we may have to respond to at any given time.”
Carroll County EMS and parole officers from the Virginia Department of Corrections also took part in Thursday’s training. Kemp said the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office and all the other aforementioned agencies take part in similar monthly trainings. Thursday’s active-shooter drills were slightly different as they were larger in scope and utilized Simunition rounds – live non-lethal rounds. Even though the Simunition rounds are not deadly, those who were hit by one Thursday described them as similar to being stung by a hornet.
“We were fortunate to get our hands on sim rounds to have live-fire exercises,” Carroll County Sheriff J.B. Gardner said. “That makes it much more realistic and makes the training come back to you that much more.”
In addition to the realistic nature of Thursday’s drills, Kemp and others who helped coordinate the training went out of their way to throw unexpected wrinkles into each scenariol. Some involved shooters in areas of the high school not known by most of the general public. Other drills utilized a second surprise shooter hiding while waiting on first-responders. The element of surprise was a large point of Thursday’s active-shooter drills.
“We try to make it as real as we can without anyone getting hurt. We know when we respond to an emergency of that magnitude we have to be ready. If we are not focused, it could be detrimental, so our focus needs to be on protecting lives and stopping the threat,” Kemp said. “We have to focus on those things to make sure we do our job no matter the intensity of the situation, no matter what the level of interference you may have from other things.”
Kemp said Thursday’s training was one that has been in the making for several months. It was the byproduct of coordination between himself, Sheriff Gardner, the Virginia State Police, and David Walls, Tact Team Leader for the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office. Any of the scenarios that played out Thursday would take the cooperation of several law enforcement agencies, so Kemp said everyone was looking forward to a drill of Thursday’s magnitude. He thanked the Carroll County School System for allowing the high school to be used for the training. Even so, he said Thursday’s drills would help in similar situations at other locations.
“With it being the largest school in the county we felt it was imperative to train at that location. It gives us numerous ways to train for any kind of emergency we may face in our day-to-day work,” Kemp said. “It is a training that is great for us to have no matter what we get called to do. Even though we did that in a school setting, those could play out anywhere, so this training can benefit us for a lot of different purposes.”
The CCHS SRO officer wanted to thank all the agencies that came together for Thursday’s training, which lasted from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m.
“Everyone did a great job and worked together and we all came together for one purpose – to learn so we can make good decisions and do a good job for the citizens of the county,” Kemp said.
Gardner said he was excited about Thursday’s training because it involved the people that are “getting the bad guys and making sure children and teachers are safe.”
“These are the ones who will be responding to these types of calls. A lot of these folks were not even working today, they did this because they know we need to get this done before school starts,” Gardner said. “Nothing is as easy as they portray it on TV. Even during the training near the school bus, it surprised me when the shotgun went off, and I knew where it was. You have to be focused, but you also have to be focused on what is on the left, what is on the right, what is in the background, are their children nearby? We always have to think about that kind of things.”
And no matter how hard you train, you will make mistakes, Gardner added. Thursday’s training was great because so much was learned logistically.
“But what you saw more than anything was that we have folks that are passionate about this, folks that want to go and stop it if we ever have a situation like this,” Gardner said.