Red lockdown!: Active shooter drill puts Hawkins police, rescue, school personnel to the test

Jeff Bobo • Jul 26, 2017 at 11:45 AM


ROGERSVILLE — A gunshot rang out, a faculty member fell to the floor mortally wounded in the school office doorway, and the public address at Joseph Rogers Primary immediately boomed the warning: "Red lockdown! Red lockdown! Red lockdown!"

Within seconds, Hawkins County Central Dispatch was calling all available police, fire and rescue personnel to JRP.

A tactical team comprised of Hawkins County Sheriff's Office and Rogersville Police Department officers entered the school and immediately encountered wounded victims and a gunman in the hallway who surrendered and was taken into custody.

In the confusion, it was hard to tell the victims from the suspects, but a second gunman was identified. Following a brief hostage situation and standoff, the second gunman was killed by police.

Simultaneously, a second and third tactical team arrived and began escorting out the walking wounded.

All told, 17 victims were wounded inside the school and there were four fatalities. Multiple police officers were wounded as well. One suspect was dead and one was in custody, and the rescued students and faculty were whisked off to a safe location to be reunited with their families.

All in all, not a bad morning's work, considering it was all just a drill.

In fact, it was Hawkins County's first ever active shooter live drill at a school involving all police, rescue, 911 and school personnel.

Most of them woke up Tuesday morning with no idea this was going to happen, just like in real life.

Although Tuesday's scenario was a training exercise, it's a scenario that could have become a reality in 2013 when the HCSO Detective's Division thwarted two Volunteer High School students who planned on committing a mass killing spree inside their school.

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson said everyone involved in Tuesday's exercise takes their training very seriously because they know it nearly happened here once already.

"It's a huge possibility," Lawson told the Times-News on Tuesday. "We don't look at it as 'if'. We look at it as 'when.' "

Tuesday's drill was organized by the Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency, HCSO, RPD, and Hawkins County Schools.

EMA Director Gary Murrell brought in makeup artists he's used in the past for Halloween Haunted Corn Maze fundraisers to add plenty of fake blood and gunshot wounds to the victims for maximum realism.

The Hawkins County School System's Safety Team comprised of about 75 faculty, staff, principals and vice principals posed as the students and teachers. Hawkins Elementary Principal Barry Bellamy played the first victim and lay dead in the office doorway with a gunshot wound to the chest throughout the entire exercise.

There were also several volunteers who allowed themselves to be made up with prosthetic wounds and fake blood.

"The first law team that came in went to the shooter," Murrell said. "That's their goal, no matter what. They have to go to that shooter. On this scenario, they got that shooter in the first hallway and took him into custody alive. More gunfire was heard throughout the school, so they knew they had another shooter in the school, so they proceeded to that and took that shooter out."

Murrell added, "Each agency has done drills, but we've never brought everybody together like this. You may know what your department is going to do, and I know what my department is going to do. But do we know what we're going to do when we're together? That's what today was about, and everybody worked real good together."

Director of Schools Steve Starnes noted that faculty and staff at each of his schools have trained with the RPD and/or HCSO individually in various lockdown scenarios but never before on this scale.

"I think they've done a very good job," Starnes said. "Working in conjunction with our EMA director and our local law enforcement, we have planned quite a bit, and we have plans available that we've implemented. Now we have a chance to review those plans in action and tweak something and make it better where we see fit, based on the information we're gathering during this drill."

With Tuesday's drill taking place inside the Rogersville city limits, four of the five initial tactical team members entering the school were members of the Rogersville Police Department.

RPD Chief Travis Fields said there's no substitute for live drills involving real people in real time.

"We have our plans on paper, but obviously we'd like to see how it would go in a real life scenario," Fields said. "That's what we've set up with the sheriff's office and the director of schools, to see how our officers respond in this situation. Everybody that would be involved in a real situation like this is here participating today. We've trained before quite a bit, but this is the first time we've had an opportunity to bring every agency together for a drill involving real people portraying victims and suspects."

Following Tuesday's exercise, each agency involved planned on evaluating their performance to determine what they did well and what improvements are needed.

"I seen some things I really like," Lawson said. "We got the students out, we got the bad guys. We got some of the wounded out.

Lawson added, "It's a good learning tool for all agencies involved, and it's good to work with the Rogersville Police Department inside the city. It was good teamwork. We'll critique it later on today, and if we've got a problem we'll fix it. When it happens, we want to be ready, and we want everybody to go home."