First responders rushed into China Spring Middle School on Thursday afternoon for an active shooter training scenario, one month before students return to class following summer break.

Members with Waco police, SWAT, Waco fire, American Medical Response and the China Spring Independent School District participated in the exercise, largely based on the Santa Fe High School shooting last year. Students with the district’s Peer Assistant Leadership, or PALs, program acted as students inside the school during the daylong training.

“I have always felt safe here. It is a very good community,” said participating PALs student Riley Shoots, 16. “It’s gotten to the point that it’s not if it will happen, but when it will happen, so like the police say, we have to be prepared.”

Shoots, an incoming China Spring High School junior, was joined by about 40 PALs students during the training scenario. Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said the training was modeled after the May 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting, where 10 people, eight students and two teachers, were fatally shot and 13 others were injured.

Active school shooting training China Spring

China Spring Independent School District police Officer Michael Fray is carried out of China Spring Middle School by Waco firefighters during an active shooter training exercise Thursday. About 40 China Spring ISD students joined first responders in the training exercise.

“It’s modeled after the school shooting where an officer was injured and kids were injured, so we basically have a lesson plan of a real life event and we are going off that with a few modifications,” Swanton said.

Officers responded to the active shooting scenario that turned into a hostage standoff with injured people inside the school. Police negotiators arrived as SWAT team members went room to room, clearing the building and removing injured students from the building.

Swanton said officers used training and knowledge from past events, such as the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in Colorado, to best devise plans to successfully rescue people.

Active school shooting training China Spring

Waco police SWAT team members enter China Spring Middle School during an active shooter training exercise Thursday. First responders and students participated in the daylong activity.

“Our tactical team may not always be at a scene like this right away, so what we known from the Columbine days is that we will no longer wait for our SWAT team,” Swanton said. “First responders will be seen immediately coming into the school, trying to put an active shooter in one spot where we can keep them from doing further harm and let officers have the potential to combat that active shooter right at the get-go, because this is very real.”

China Spring ISD Police Chief Shanna Sanders said her knowledge of the school buildings would be used as an advantage in training scenarios. She said training not only benefits police officers, but helps students know what to expect in emergency situations.

Active school shooting training China Spring

Waco firefighters remove a student playing an injured victim from China Spring Middle School during an active trainer exercise Thursday. Students and emergency responders participated in the training.

Shoots, who followed out a critically injured student during the scenario, agreed with Sanders.

“If you don’t know what to do in these situations, you’re not going to be ready if or when it actually happens. You always need to be aware,” Shoots said. “That is why we do fire drills, tornado drills, and just drills so we are prepared to help others who may not be.”

Swanton thanked China Spring ISD for their cooperation and participation. He said although the start of the school year is roughly four weeks away, emergency situations can happen anywhere.

Active school shooting training China Spring

A student posing as a victim is treated by paramedics during the training scenario at China Spring Middle School on Thursday. during an active trainer exercise

“We are getting ready for the future, anytime, anywhere, and it doesn’t have to be a school,” he said. “This could be a grocery store, this could be a department store, it could be a business, and we’ve seen it happen all too often around our country.

“Fortunately law enforcement is learning, we are improvising, and we are figuring out how to deal with these scenarios, but the best way to figure that out is train like you fight. That is what we are doing.”

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Kristin Hoppa has been covering public safety and breaking news for the Tribune-Herald since January 2016. She worked in Northwest Missouri covering crime-related issues before her move to Central Texas. She is a University of Kansas graduate.

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