Friday morning started like any other school day at Paris High School. Students arrived and went to their homerooms, then the police, firefighters and paramedics arrived.
It was all part of a plan — although one that was kept from students until the last minute — to train for an active shooter in the building.
Prior to the drill, students were summoned to the gym where administrator Mark Cox and Paris Police Chief Eric Brown briefed them on what was about to happen and how they should respond. The assembly also showed a video about the run, hide, fight response now recommended in active shooter situations.
“Your reaction can save your life,” said Brown.
The police chief explained, and the video reinforced, if the shots are coming from a distant part of the building and it is possible to leave, then run away and get out.
If the shooting is close by, lock the door, barricade it if possible, turn out the lights, silence cell phones and remain as quiet as possible so the room appears unoccupied.
If the shooter gets into the room, those inside should prepare to fight.
“Fight with whatever you got —never give up,” said Brown.
The video stressed the first police officers on the scene are not there to safely evacuate the building. Their purpose is to locate and eliminate the threat.
Brown said it is important students and faculty remember that in case they decide to run.
“If you leave the classroom and encounter the police, have your hands up and palms out,” said Brown. “When the police come in, they don’t know who the shooter is and not having your hands up and running toward us is not safe.”
He added those fleeing need to provide police any information about who the shooter is and where the person might be, if they know.
“The number one goal of the police is to eliminate the shooter as quickly as possible,” said Brown.
Students were warned before the drill started Brown was going to walk the halls and shoot blanks from a real gun at several locations in the building to help familiarize students with what gunfire sounds like inside a building.
Fire chief Brian Gates told students firefighters wearing distinctive safety vests were to be stationed throughout the school during the drill in case someone experienced anxiety, fell or otherwise needed medical attention.
Brown commended the faculty and administration for helping organize the drill.
“They care about you. They don’t want anything bad to happen to you,” said Brown. Cox dismissed students back to homeroom and encouraged them to discuss how they might react and said announcements would be made prior the firing of shots so students could prepare themselves.
The gunshots echoed through the halls and were audible outside the building as well.
Following the drill, Brown expressed satisfaction with how it went.
“As the shooter in the drill, I thought they reacted appropriately,” said Brown.
Through a window, he observed two students barricading a door and they quickly moved out of sight before becoming a target. Every door Brown tried was locked and the lights were out in most of the rooms.
“I did not see any of the students that ran so they were not a target for me,” said Brown. “In a real situation, they probably would have gotten away.”
The use of a real gun shooting blanks was added this year because it is important people unfamiliar with firearms knows what a gunshot sounds like.
“Unfortunately at many of these mass shootings, people say they heard something but didn’t know what it was,” said Brown. “They hesitate because they are uncertain and that can be fatal.”
Cox was also pleased with how the drill he went. He said the event Friday, with the use of a real gun shooting blanks, was the culmination of three years of planning and building the realism of the drills in stages.
“We got great reactions from the kids and response based on the information they got,” said Cox.
The drill was followed with a question and answer session in the gym. Cox said students were encouraged to continue that conversation when they returned to homeroom or to write questions for the administration or police.
He added the format of the drill is such that police and administrators can mix it up with different scenarios.
“The idea is to get everyone to know their surroundings and make good decisions based on the information available to them,” Cox said.