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Reporter Rebecca Everett takes aim in shooter drill

  • Easthampton policeman Rob Pouska, center, flanked by Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, left, and Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, right, approach a room where a shooter awaits during a training session Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton policeman Rob Pouska, center, flanked by Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, left, and Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, right, approach a room where a shooter awaits during a training session Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Sgt. Dominic Serino holds a simuntion gun used in training as Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett looks on during shooter training Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Sgt. Dominic Serino holds a simuntion gun used in training as Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett looks on during shooter training Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton policeman Rob Pouska, center, flanked by Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, left, and Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, approach a room where a shooter awaits during a training session Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton policeman Rob Pouska, center, flanked by Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, left, and Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, approach a room where a shooter awaits during a training session Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon, left, talks with Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett after a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon, left, talks with Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett after a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon, center, helps Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett with a disabled Colt M-4 patrol rifle as Sgt. Dominic Serino looks on during shooter training drills Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building. Everett held the weapon while participating in drills with members of the department.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon, center, helps Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett with a disabled Colt M-4 patrol rifle as Sgt. Dominic Serino looks on during shooter training drills Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building. Everett held the weapon while participating in drills with members of the department.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon helps Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett with a disabled Colt M-4 patrol rifle during shooter training drills Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building. Everett held the weapon while participating in drills with members of the department.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon helps Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett with a disabled Colt M-4 patrol rifle during shooter training drills Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building. Everett held the weapon while participating in drills with members of the department.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon holds a simunition round that are  fired in training guns during a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon holds a simunition round that are fired in training guns during a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nicholas Weidhaas, left, who is a tactical instructor for the Easthampton Police, positions Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett beside Easthampton officers Brian Ross, from left, Nathan Sansouci and Rob Pouska before running a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Nicholas Weidhaas, left, who is a tactical instructor for the Easthampton Police, positions Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett beside Easthampton officers Brian Ross, from left, Nathan Sansouci and Rob Pouska before running a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, third from left, and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, fourth from left, participate in a drill with Easthampton policemen Rob Pouska, from left, Brian Ross, Chad Alexander and Nathan Sansouci Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, third from left, and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, fourth from left, participate in a drill with Easthampton policemen Rob Pouska, from left, Brian Ross, Chad Alexander and Nathan Sansouci Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, center, takes part in a drill beside Easthampton policemen Nicholas Weidhaas, left, and Nathan Sansouci Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, center, takes part in a drill beside Easthampton policemen Nicholas Weidhaas, left, and Nathan Sansouci Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon places neck protection on Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett before a drill with police Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon places neck protection on Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett before a drill with police Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon places a helmet on Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett before a drill with police Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon places a helmet on Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett before a drill with police Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Easthampton policeman Rob Pouska, center, flanked by Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, left, and Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, right, approach a room where a shooter awaits during a training session Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Sgt. Dominic Serino holds a simuntion gun used in training as Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett looks on during shooter training Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton policeman Rob Pouska, center, flanked by Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, left, and Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, approach a room where a shooter awaits during a training session Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon, left, talks with Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett after a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon, center, helps Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett with a disabled Colt M-4 patrol rifle as Sgt. Dominic Serino looks on during shooter training drills Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building. Everett held the weapon while participating in drills with members of the department.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon helps Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett with a disabled Colt M-4 patrol rifle during shooter training drills Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building. Everett held the weapon while participating in drills with members of the department.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon holds a simunition round that are  fired in training guns during a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Nicholas Weidhaas, left, who is a tactical instructor for the Easthampton Police, positions Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett beside Easthampton officers Brian Ross, from left, Nathan Sansouci and Rob Pouska before running a drill Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Channel 40 reporter Mike LaCrosse, third from left, and Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, fourth from left, participate in a drill with Easthampton policemen Rob Pouska, from left, Brian Ross, Chad Alexander and Nathan Sansouci Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett, center, takes part in a drill beside Easthampton policemen Nicholas Weidhaas, left, and Nathan Sansouci Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon places neck protection on Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett before a drill with police Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Easthampton Police Chief Bruce McMahon places a helmet on Daily Hampshire Gazette reporter Rebecca Everett before a drill with police Wednesday at the former Easthampton High School building.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

The man in front of me went left, I ran right and crouched behind a low bookshelf as the fake bullets began to fly from the officer playing “the bad guy,” who was mostly hidden behind shelves in the far end of the room.

The whole stand-off took only seconds. Officers yelled for him to drop his weapon and we all returned fire. With my heart racing and my hands shaking, I aimed in his direction without thinking about what the sergeant had told me minutes before about exactly how to do that.

In fact, my adrenaline was pumping so much that when the drill was over, I wasn’t even sure I fired at all until Officer Nick Weidhaas examined my remaining rounds and told me I fired three or four times. The bad guy, Officer Steven Mielke, showed me the welt on his wrist where he said I shot him.

Even though I knew that everyone was shooting non-lethal training ammunition, called simunition, the whole school shooter simulation felt painfully real as I rushed into that room without knowing what I was facing.

Police Chief Bruce McMahon said that’s the point.

“We’ve done this in various buildings, in the old mill buildings and in the basement. But this is the first time we’ve had the ability to do it in an actual school,” he said in his office before the April 24 training. “I think it really does feel more real. It drives the point home because there are classrooms, desks, chairs, and quite a few of the officers including myself went to school there.”

After students moved into the new high school two weeks ago, the Easthampton Police Department held its annual tactical trainings for three nights last week in the old building. McMahon said they couldn’t have asked for a better place to practice the dreaded school shooting scenario.

It’s a disaster no one ever wants to think about, but police departments around the country have been planning and preparing for it for years. Especially in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., police have been reviewing emergency plans, completing shooter trainings and brainstorming every possible shooter scenario in the hope of being prepared in case one of them becomes a reality in a school in their town.

McMahon said the training is crucial because officers need to respond without hesitation when faced with an “active shooter.”

“It’s refreshing their skills and they feel more confident when they come out of the training. Instilling that confidence for the people doing it is important,” he said. “You can’t have any delay at all.”

Easthampton trains all

The Easthampton Police Department doesn’t have a specialized tactical unit. Every officer in the department is trained to be prepared — and they all pay attention to lessons learned in past tragedies.

“Based on Newtown, we know the sooner you get someone inside the sooner you can stop the threat,” McMahon said. “We don’t have time to wait for a tactical team, it’s just whoever is available. We don’t know who’s going to be the first one there. It could be a patrol officer or a detective or me.”

That’s why last week, groups of eight or nine officers went to each training on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

McMahon said every officer is prepared for an active shooter threat, whether it’s in a school, a home or a business, and now they are more familiar with the environments they’re likely to encounter in a school, from classrooms with two exits to storage closets and desks.

At the Wednesday training, McMahon invited a couple of news reporters along. That night, the chalkboard in a third floor science classroom was covered in instructions and tips about each drill, including reminders to keep talking to fellow officers throughout the room clearing and diagrams to indicate where each officer would go upon entering a room and who would stay in the hall to offer cover.

Weidhaas, who led the trainings with Sgt. Dominic Serino, walked reporters through the drawings on the board, explaining strategy and rationale. Both police officers have received tactical training and are prepared to instruct other officers.

Before we could do our first room clearing drill, we needed the proper equipment. That meant a heavy Kevlar vest — much stronger than the ones officers wear on everyday patrols — and an unloaded Colt M-4 patrol rifle that took considerable effort to lift to eye level. For safety’s sake, no loaded firearms were allowed during the trainings other than the simunition guns.

Weidhaas noted the importance of using verbal commands, like “drop your weapon,” but an officer faced with an armed assailant has to make the decision — sometimes in a split-second — about how dangerous the person is and whether to start shooting.

The scenario for this drill was that there had been an armed robbery at the Union Street 7-Eleven and the suspect was hiding in a residence on Liberty Street. For our purposes, a classroom would represent a room in the house.

We got in the “stack,” a line of officers behind the one holding a shield, and after using a mirror to check the room from just outside the classroom door, cautiously headed inside. After we fanned out in the room and determined there were no visible threats, I was tasked with offering backup firepower for an officer who had to check a closet. Even though the chief told us there wouldn’t be an armed bad guy in the first scenario, I was immensely relieved when the closet door swung open to reveal nothing but an electrical panel.

After that slow, cautious search drill, I didn’t feel nearly ready for the active shooter training, where the goal is to get to the shooter as quickly as possible. But I was fitted with a neck shield and a helmet with a full face mask and traded in my unloaded rifle for a blue handgun loaded with the simunition.

Gut-wrenching scenario

The story line this time was too horrible to imagine, but we had to: There was an armed shooter in the school and we had to get to him as fast as we could to protect students and teachers.

We jogged down the hallway in a single, tight unit. Officer Rob Pouska held a shield, flanked on the right and left by the two novice members of the media, and three more officers followed in a line straight behind him.

Even though I was surrounded by trained police officers, it was unnerving to move down the long, deserted hallway while shouts of “you’ll never take me alive!” came from a room at the end of the corridor. I jumped at every sound and my palms started to sweat on the simunition gun. It seemed to take forever to get to the library at the end of the hall where the voice was coming from.

Pouska scanned the room from the doorway and signaled that we should all head in, so I raised my gun to eye-level as Serino had instructed and dashed inside with the five other men to face Mielke, who had two guns and was still yelling.

It took more than a half-hour for my nerves to calm down after the drill.

McMahon said that throughout the rest of the evening, the officers would head into other rooms in the school to face a variety of unknown scenarios. One room might have three or four armed assailants, he said, or an assailant might immediately put up his hands, give up his gun and get handcuffed.

That uncertainty has to be part of the drills, he said, because it’s part of “every single day” an officer is on duty.

“Whether it’s a traffic stop or a domestic, they never know what’s on the other side of that door,” he said.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

I think it would be a great idea for a Gazette reporter to go through the process of purchasing a rifle or handgun and document what they have to go through.

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