Volunteers play their part for exercise
By ROBIN HART and BEN KLEPPINGER
Early Friday morning, dozens of student volunteers gathered in the Boyle County High School cafeteria to hear last minute instructions about the pending active shooter drill that was taking place.
Boyle County Schools Assistant Superintendent Chris Holderman assured the group, “This is not real. This is scripted.” But, he added, the teens needed to be aware that once the drill begins, “They’re going to be coming in hot,” referring to the first responders.
It seemed almost like a typical morning at the school. Buses and cars were lined up by the front doors. Kids were laughing and talking amongst themselves in the cafeteria and front lobby. Some were listening to music through earbuds. A few were in line getting breakfast sandwiches and cafeteria workers were at their stations.
Suddenly, a masked gunman armed with a pump-action shotgun entered through the rear kitchen area and began shooting at anyone in his way.
Teenagers screamed and hit the ground while some ran to safety. Loud shots echoed in the large cinderblock room. Empty shells clanged to the floor.
Then everything was quiet.
Within seconds, an alarm pierced through the hallways; cafeteria cage doors were slammed shut and locked; young bodies were strewn throughout the cafeteria; and the voice of an office worker could be heard over the loudspeakers, repeating that this was not a drill and a shooter was in the building.
More shots rang through the lobby and bodies fell in pools of blood. Even more shots were heard down a hall as the gunman made his way through the building.
First responders draped with bullet-proof vests and guns drawn, rushed through the school doors and began their drill — including searching for the gunman or possible others; getting the wounded out of the building; escorting students out of classrooms; and answering frightened parents’ questions.
As the drill continued at the school, 21 student “victims” were transported to Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, where the medical team continued with their emergency drill. Three of the students “died at the scene.”
As the drill wound down and student victims were released from the ER, a few gathered in the hospital dining room where they were treated with snacks and cookies.
A group of guys and girls sat around a table and talked about what they saw.
Kennedy Fowler, an upcoming sophomore, said she has become more scared of being involved with a shooting at the school. Even balloons popping in the school lobby frightens her. She said students have been told to lock classroom doors, but they hadn’t been taught what to do if a shooter came into the lobby or gym.
“They need to teach us what to do,” she said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Morgan Lamb, who will be in the sixth grade soon, was the youngest volunteer. She said she feels a little safer now that she knows what to expect and what to do if a shooter enters their school. “I am more empowered.”
She told those sitting around her that her parents were EMTs and her dad had taught her to “run zigzag” if there was shooting incident. Lamb thinks all students should be taught basic safety measures such as that.
Back in the emergency waiting room, Hunter Baltazar, an upcoming junior, said shootings seem to be more frequent, so this drill was good because “it helped the town and first responders” learn how to react and work with each other if something like this happened in Danville.
Baltazar, who was one of the first victims, along with at least three of his soccer teammates, said his most frightening moments were when the shooter looked at them, fired and walked right past.
It felt “a little bit more real” than Baltazar, said he expected.
Landon Simmons, an upcoming sophomore, said before the drill began he was excited to be a part of the exercise, “Because I knew it would help the town, if anything like that were to happen.”
Simmons has been around guns and even trap shoots, so he’s used to gunshot sounds. “But is definitely surprising to hear them in the cafeteria right next to us.”
Ethan James, an upcoming junior, said, “I like the idea (of an active shooter drill) and get used to it because it’s a reality now.”
He said one thing he learned about himself was if a gunman threatened his safety, “My body is going to go into shock!” He said even though he knew it was a drill, his body and mind just froze.
Kyle Taylor was another soccer team member who had volunteered to be a shooting victim. When he came out of the ER, the other guys were joking with him, asking if he had died or was OK. Nope, he said, he was stable, couldn’t feel anything from his waist down and was tagged to go to UK.
The four soccer teammates agreed that the most haunting sounds were the shots fired, empty shells bouncing on the floor and the gunman reloading.
All four young men were sitting in the waiting room and were covered in fake blood. A couple of them had real-looking rubber wounds stuck to their arms and chests.
Baltazar had an obvious head wound. A fake bullet hole and artificial blood still dripped off his face. “I was really nervous. I’ve never had a gun pointed at me.”
When teacher Jennifer Carney walked up to the group, she told them they had to return all of the real-looking rubber wounds. They were disappointed they couldn’t keep them as souvenirs.
Back at the high school, Assistant Superintendent Chris Holderman gathered the students and staff who hadn’t been transported to the hospital for a debriefing after the drill wrapped up.
“I feel like maybe I’m part of a movie team or something,” he said, smiling. “You all did just such a good job and I can’t thank you enough.”
Superintendent Mike LaFavers agreed.
“Today was all about the first responders, letting them see how this works and letting them experience it and they couldn’t have done that today without you all,” LaFavers said.
One of the volunteers was called out for her especially good acting. Parent Jenna DeRousse was tasked with portraying a parent desperate to be reunited with her children and attempting to get inside the high school. What no one saw coming was that a door used by the shooter was left open, allowing DeRousse to actually enter the high school.
DeRousse made her way to the front lobby, where she confronted police, telling them she wanted to find her children. Her acting was so good, “she fooled me,” Holderman said, explaining how multiple people believed a concerned parent really had stumbled on the drill happening and gotten worried for her kids.
DeRousse said in real life, she’s a mom to a senior and two freshmen at Boyle County High.
“When I went running in, I was being the most worried parent I could be,” she said.
Kudos were also offered to McKinley Rush, a Boyle County graduate and Centre College student who returned to her alma mater to portray the shooter’s accomplice.
Rush acted out the role of the shooter’s girlfriend. She paced nervously and constantly checked her cell phone in the minutes before the shooter arrived — something at least one person noticed, but most did not. When the time came, she “made a beeline” through the cafeteria and opened the side door. When the shooting started, she fled to classrooms with the other students.
Rush said she doesn’t have prior acting experience; she credited the tension created by the drill with helping her perform the role well. “I think I was just nervous in general, like everyone else.”
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