Dozens of police officers swarmed through Middletown High School on Monday targeting a deadly active shooter that didn’t exist, and safety officials hope never will.
And one of the best ways to prevent or at least minimize the horrific toll of an armed attacker loose in a school, said city police and school officials, is to practice a swift and equally deadly response.
School security forces combined with Middletown Police SWAT and other officers in a takeover of the high school and middle school campus during one of the largest active shooter safety drills in city schools’ history.
The drill included simulated handgun and rifle fire using non-lethal rounds.
“Safety is always at the forefront of our mind,” said Middletown Schools Superintendent Marlon Styles Jr. shortly after the various attack scenarios were practiced.
“Today was about finding about ways we are best prepared and areas where we can improve safety measures for schools, staff and community,” said Styles.
May’s school shooting massacre in Texas, which saw an armed intruder kill 17 students and two teachers, partially prompted district officials to conduct the most involved building security test option — active shooter drill with local police — available as the opening of classes approaches later this month.
“We’re updating plans on an annual basis … the attention around the school shootings in this country definitely inspired this activity to take place.”
Styles was inside the high school during the practice response against two, separate scenarios of attack – an armed intruder firing at students and staffers and an armed student attacking classmates and staffers.
No Middletown students were involved in the drill though some volunteer high school students from neighboring districts participated in the exercise.
“It was emotional. We love our children and we love our staff and community. To know that a tragic incident such as this would involve potential injuries or casualties, it’s emotional.”
Middletown Police Chief David Birk said the drills went largely as planned for the three-hour window Monday morning where the campus was closed off to the public.
Part of the national uproar over the shooting massacre at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas involved police waiting in school hallways and not immediately engaging the shooter.
That wouldn’t happen in Middletown, said Birk.
Officers are trained, he said, “if there is an active shooter, first officer on scene has to go to the threat.”
“We cannot wait.”
“Then the second officer on the scene has to go to the threat. That’s why communication is so important. We used to train to wait for four officers. Now we train our officers that the first officer on the scene has to go to the threat.”
The killing of students and staff in rapid fashion prompts the urgency for such a deadly response, said Birk.
“How many kids, staff members and how many family members are being hurt while we are delaying to go in there? Then we follow up with getting the injured out and getting them medical treatment.”
The necessity of such drills is a grim reminder of today’s reality of potential armed attack on school buildings anywhere in America, he said.
“These (school attacks) are happening all over … and we want to make sure the school and the police department are on the same page,” he said. “The top priority is keeping our kids safe.”
Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this story.