At the end of the day, 25 students were killed and dozens more grievously wounded in a full-scale active shooter drill at Oak Lawn Community High School on Sunday.
More than 350 participants took part in the largest police training exercise of its kind in the state – a deranged gunman loose in a school shooting at innocent teachers and kids.
Police, paramedics, forensic investigators and volunteers from the Great Lakes Naval Station created a mass casualty scenario so realistic and chilling, it gave a glimpse into what the scene might have been like at Columbine, Aurora, CO, and the Boston Marathon bombing.
“We live in a different age today,” Oak Lawn Police Div. Chief Michael Kaufmann said. “It’s better to have a plan than no plan at all.”
Oak Lawn police intern Jillian Urbas’ 911 call to report a “shooter” in Oak Lawn Community High School brought tears to observers’ eyes. Naval recruits from Great Lakes Naval Station – portraying student victims – ran screaming down the hallway of the high school as they fled a lone gunman shooting up the gym.
Police officers in SWAT gear from Oak Lawn, Alsip, Chicago
Ridge, Evergreen Park and Burbank, took turns storming the gymnasium full of moaning
"students," listening for gunshots. Training mannequins were splayed around the gym, doubling as deceased shooting victims.
Outside, police personnel directed officers an incident command unit vehicle, feeding 911-dispatch information to officers searching for the gunman and monitoring close-circuit security cameras inside the high school.
A navy recruit laying on the gymnasium floor a few feet away from a mannequin decked out in a Chicago Cubs jersey identified by a placard indicating that it died of a self-inflicted, gunshot wound – screamed to police officers: “He did it.”
Although the police exercise was slowed down so that trainers could evaluate officers’ response, in a real-world active shooter situation officers would be swarming the school.
In Oak Lawn, four police officers would be the first to enter the building to follow the sound of gunshots in a mass-shooting incident.
During the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, in which two heavily armed students killed 13 students and a teacher, and injured 21 before taking their own lives – police officers waited outside the school building until the shooting had subsided.
“We don’t do that anymore. Because of our size, we can get four officers inside under a minute,” Kaufmann said. “They don’t stop to help anybody. The go right to the shooter or shooters to minimize the carnage. Once the threat is stopped, [paramedics] are brought in to help with the wounded and injured.”
Oak Lawn police and other neighboring agencies train together in at least one active shooter drill per year. Past mock gun attacks have been staged at Advocate Christ Medical Center and the old Kmart store at 111th Street and Cicero prior to it being demolished.
Police officers also conduct school crisis drills – including building evacuations and responding to intruders – at Oak Lawn’s public and parochial schools.
Sunday’s full-scale exercise involving hundreds of participants – including Advocate Christ and other area hospitals – was made possible by a $50,000 federal grant.
Oak Lawn Police Commander Art Clark, a colonel in the Marine Corps and coordinator of the village’s emergency management services – spent six months planning the drill down to the last shell casing.
Clark, along with Urbas and another police intern, Mike Kelley, created the victim scripts and coordinated the agencies that took part in the exercise, much like Hollywood producers creating a disaster flick.
“Sometimes we do a school or large business or other buildings, any realistic setting we can find,” Clark said. “The idea is to stop it as quickly as we can.”
Watch, "There's a shooter in the gym."
- Video #1 – “There’s a shooter in the gym.” 911 call.