Emergency workers, students participate in school shooting drill

A shooting 'victim' is escorted from Riley Avenue Elementary School during Saturday morning's active shooter drill. (Credit: Michael White)
A shooting ‘victim’ is escorted from Riley Avenue Elementary School during Saturday morning’s active shooter drill. (Credit: Michael White)

David Wicks said he couldn’t help but get a bit emotional during Saturday’s active shooter drill in Calverton, where police and ambulance workers simulated a mass shooting inside Riley Avenue Elementary School.

About 70 high school students and other volunteers also participated in the drill, during which two people were “killed,” and several others were dragged from the school or carried out, fake-bloodied and bandaged.

A Suffolk police helicopter also landed in a nearby field.

“It was very real for me; I had chills,” said Mr. Wicks, a Riverhead School District assistant superintendent. “I felt myself getting emotional. The real sobering thing is how much time can pass before help gets here.

“But it made me feel good because our lockdown procedures do help.”

(More photos below)

The shooter, a man who was said to have committed suicide inside the building, entered each of the classrooms with a paintball gun that was supposed to simulate an assault weapon, officials said.

Teenagers could be heard screaming from within the building, and they periodically filed out of the school’s front entrance in straight lines, their hands behind their heads. The drill lasted about 90 minutes.

The simulation kicked off at 9 a.m. when alarms began sounding inside the building. Riverhead police SWAT teams showed up about five minutes later and made their way into the school behind shields.

Ambulance, fire and other police vehicles soon also arrived, their emergency lights on — but no sirens, so the public wouldn’t be alarmed.

Riverhead Ambulance Corps chief Joseph Oliver and his fellow ambulance volunteers organized and led the event, which he said was more than two years in the making.

“The reason why we do this is to learn, obviously make some mistakes and learn from them,” Mr. Oliver said. “And next year we’re planning on having another drill that’s going to actually be a lot bigger.”

He said emergency workers, school staffers and volunteers had been meeting regularly for over two months to plan the drill.

“Most times when EMS does a drill, it’s focused on just us and what we can do to improve,” he said. “This drill is actually different in that we wanted everybody to learn from it, the police department, the schools, everybody gains something.”

He estimated about 200 people participated in the event, from police and EMS personnel to students and faculty and other volunteers.

One of those volunteers, Theresa Cahill, was found outside the school as the event was wrapping up, with a bloody circle painted on her forehead.

“I suffered multiple gunshot wounds as the shooter was coming in,” said Ms. Cahill, also a Riverhead Ambulance Corps member. “He got me coming down the hall way. He got two of us on the way in and then proceeded into the classrooms.”

She said the other victim in the hallway, another adult, was grazed on the neck and escaped.

“You try to focus on the task at hand and making sure, if you can, to get the students to safety and don’t be a hero, if you can. It’s hard,” she advised. “You want to center on the kids, getting them out and safe so the parents don’t have to worry.”

She also said the teenagers performed well.

Student Emily Beers, a ninth-grader, said the drill was very realistic.

“Even though it was just a drill … we had to use our instincts and our sense to make sure we were safe,” she said.

“I think this really helped us in case of a real life situation,” added fellow ninth-grader Lauren Anasky. “Because we learned a lot and we know what to do, either hide, fight or run.”

“And we know we have more strength in us than we thought we had.”

“Yeah,” said ninth-grader Megan Schlichting. “All the adrenaline kicks in.”

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Riverhead Police Chief David Hegermiller said members of the department’s Critical Incidence Response Team were the first on the scene and were used to neutralize the shooter.

“God forbid something like this happens, we all have to be on the same page as far as knowing what each other’s responsibilities and duties are and working with each other, communicating with each other,” he said.

He also said this particular drill focused more on the EMS component, but more drills will be taking place in the future, with another one planned for next year involving all East End police departments

That drill, he said, will involve all those different police agencies organizing during an event such as a mass shooting.

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