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The end game — shoot the assailant before other innocent roleplaying victims are laid to waste in the second floor hallway of Manning Elementary School Thursday afternoon.

The victims are depending on those officers who enter into these often deadly situations.

“They’re the ones that have to have the right mindset to know they have to enter and you have a shooter in that room,” Roanoke Rapids police Chief Shane Guyant said before an afternoon session of active shooter training at the school on Park Avenue. “You have to get in that room as fast as you can. You have to put fear aside, point your weapon, run through there and shoot the assailant. Plain and simple.”

The training began Monday and was to end today. “We will have run approximately 160 officers through this,” Guyant said.

What the sessions have taught the chief is, “That we needed this training and we will get better the more we train, the more we’re exposed. It’s to pretty much simulate someone coming into this school and we get a call to respond and grade the students on how they responded and how they used their tactics and what they’ve learned in the classroom part here. It’s important that we see it with our own eyes to see how they respond to that stress.”

The training came with the blessings of the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District. "As the superintendent of the Roanoke Rapids Graded School District, the safety and well-being of our students and staff are my highest priority,” Superintendent Julie Thompson said. “I am thankful for our continued partnership with the Roanoke Rapids Police Department. We are glad to host them and surrounding law enforcement agencies this week at Manning Elementary School as we work together to keep our students, staff, and visitors safe." 

In the first four days Guyant said those observing the training learned that “people in this area are more prepared than we thought they were going to be. Most of the students we’ve had come through here actually really did a good job considering a lot of them had never been trained in this since their basic law enforcement training days. 

“We were kind of impressed. We have kind of a hodgepodge of officers that are engaged in special response teams, officers with advanced experience and then brand new officers.”

It was a mix of departments that included probation and parole, the prison emergency response teams, sheriff’s offices and neighboring police departments. “We are very impressed at how the majority of the students did a really good job,” Guyant said.

Basic advanced shooter class

The classes this week focused on an active shooter in the building using three scenarios. “We haven’t thrown out anything about rescuing victims, we haven’t talked about anything to do with triaging, how to get the parents to where they need to be to recover their kids and dealing with the kids,” Guyant said. “We dealt with an active shooter in this building, go find that person and stop the threat. That has been the sequence of that. There’s a lot more they need to know and in future months they will learn when we do this again.”

Guyant said he hopes the next training will be in December and he wants to do it at the community college. “The scenarios will be different. We’ll try to involve fire and rescue because it’s very important we involve them because there are going to be situations with an active shooter where you’re going  to extricate the injured. We’ve definitely got to involve fire and rescue.”

As observed in the first two drills with a single active shooter the objective was to stop the threat. “When you have an active shooter you really don’t have the option to go in and talk this person down.” Guyant said. “You will see there are roleplayers that have been shot. Imagine if you will there’s almost 600 kids that go to this school. Imagine that half of them are shot, laying all in the hallway. If someone were to engage in an active shooter situation in this school our job is to stop the threat, in other words, to kill the assailant. That is pretty much what it is. It’s not anything that pretty and clean but we have to stop the threat so nobody else dies.”

Sandy Hook and Uvalde as models

Guyant said the class is based on statistics and tactics that were not applied in Uvalde, Texas. “We talk about a lot of things that were not done correctly (at Uvalde),” he said. “We talk about the things that were done correctly at Sandy Hook. A lot of people died at Sandy Hook but the police department and law enforcement agencies that responded to Sandy Hook did a really good job neutralizing the threat.”

Uvalde was totally different, Guyant said. “They sat back and there’s a really good PBS Frontline documentary on Uvalde and I would encourage everybody to watch that because those officers said they were trained. They weren’t trained like we’re training this week. We’re training to stop that threat.”

The officers at Uvalde knew something was going on, the chief said. “They knew that something was going on and they delayed for whatever reason and more people died than probably should have. We’re making sure that we look at those two dichotomies of structure.”

He said, “You’ve got one in Sandy Hook where they did a really good job and Uvalde where they did not use their tactics. We’re trying to talk about that  and involve them in that.”

Planning since January

In January Guyant, Thompson and Halifax Community College officials met with others and Jim Marsal who teaches these classes. “This is an expensive process,” he said. “The school system has allowed us to use this entire building. They have been so helpful. Sarah Council joined us yesterday so she got to witness it herself. She’s the one that supervises the SROs (school resource officers). It’s good to have them see it — what we’re doing so they know. We appreciate them letting us use the space.”

Guyant describes Manning as a really safe school. “They do a really good job with their outer perimeter. They make sure they keep the exterior doors locked so that nobody can come in through the doorways. They have cameras everywhere and they have a central point of entrance to come into the building. They can monitor who comes and who goes. They have an SRO on staff.”

However, in the scenario that has been used during the training the assailant was let in through an exterior door. “Imagine if you will, I'm a teacher. I go out to my car to get something, I prop the door to make it easier for me to get back in the building. These are human things that could happen. That’s what a bad person is going to do. They are going to key in on mistakes and take advantage of them.”

The hard truth

The truth about an active shooter situation is the chances of an officer getting shot are very high, Guyant said. “Does it mean you’re going to die? I don’t know. Do you have enough protective gear on you? Do you have the skills to understand how this works? There is going to be a loss of life in an active shooter situation. We cannot prevent that. The shooter dictates that and they have the advantage because they know what their plan is. They get a heads up on us, they’re in the school, they have the weaponry to do what they’re going to do. 

“Weapons are easily available to anybody living in the United States of America. It is up to us to respond as fast and as dynamically as we can to the threat to stop that threat.”

Incoming officers are told, the chief said, “If you don’t have the mindset that you’re going to get shot in these situations this may not be the job for you to go into.”

He said, however, “As long as you’re wearing your protective equipment and you’re doing your job to make sure nobody sneaks up on you, you’re prepared, the training that you’re getting today you should survive.”

Equipment needs

Guyant said he and Halifax County Sheriff Tyree Davis have talked about equipment needs in these situations.

“We feel like we do a really good job off of what we have. We carry sidearms with us every day and we have really started in this past year advancing what we call our offensive weapons — our rifles. We’re kind of phasing away from shotguns because shotguns in an active shooter situation are very useless because you’re talking about distance, spread. 

“We’re trying to increase the amount of rifles that we have. I really don’t have the budget money to do everything I want to do as far as getting offensive weapons but we make do with what we have and we are really working hard to find funding and maneuver funding from other projects to make sure that our officers are well-equipped because a bad guy in an active shooter situation isn’t coming in here with a .38 revolver. They’re coming in here armed to the teeth.”

Topics for future sessions

This week’s training did not include discussions about pipe bombs and other improvised devices. “That is in a class later down the road. These things can happen — pipe bombs, different things that they have access to. We could always use more equipment, better equipment.”

Law enforcement is not a cheap profession, Guyant said. “It’s not just about salary and a car, there’s so many other ancillary things. The training between the police department and Halifax Community College cost us around $10,000 just for a week’s training.”

With that $10,000, 160 officers have gone through training. “Now we have 160 officers that have been exposed to this and the chance of us saving a life and stopping a threat is incrementally increased. It’s well worth it.”

Why it happens

The literature on why these situations happen is from A to Z, Guyant said. “It is just whatever is going through that bad guy’s mind at the time to want to enter a school full of innocent children and to do something horrific as to take over a school for whatever god awful reason they choose.”

The shooters can’t be picked out in a crowd, he said.  “It happens all across the country. We don’t get caught up in why they do it. We get caught up in stopping it. That’s what we’re about — stopping it. We’re not here to de-escalate, we’re not here to hold hands, we’re not here to beg. We’re here to stop it. And if that means most of the time shooting the assailants, stopping the assailants, killing the assailants so that the threat is over that’s what we’re here for.”

Secure schools

“The school system here in Roanoke Rapids does a really good job,” Guyant said. “This school’s secure. It’s safe and I think that they all are. They have school resource officers at every school in this district.”

The resource officers are officers who have developed a direct relationship with the students and the staff, the chief said. “Everyone of them, from this school to Belmont all the way up to the high school take their responsibilities extremely seriously and they know that moment could come and they’re ready — ready to lay their life down for a child — that’s quite an accomplishment for anybody to do but we’re ready for that.”

A longtime teacher

Marsal, who was teaching the officers before they acted out the scenarios, is retired from the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office.

He has been a rapid deployment and active shooter instructor before there was a certification for that. 

He also spent time on SWAT and helped to develop SWAT in the late 90s. “This kind of grew out of that training.”

He said every group going through the training is different. “There’s several reasons we do it the way we do it. One is we like to train in various schools so the officers learn the layout. You want them to get inside and learn how the rooms are structured and just get used to what’s located where so if they do have an incident here they’ll know what to do.”

Response to these situations has become more uniform. “It’s a lot more uniformed than what it was 20 years ago when they started doing some of this stuff. We’ve learned a lot. My old agency we did 10, 12 years straight in a row for the whole department and others. A lot of tactics changed because we found out some of the old style tactics left gaps in our techniques and people were getting shot and ambushed.”

Said Guyant: “With the tragic shootings that we’ve had, police departments have done debriefs and said this didn’t work, this did work. Those tactics have come back to us and you do have to tweak it to make it fit because it depends on what weapon this person has, it depends on so many different factors. It’s not like it’s boilerplate.”

A critique

rrspin observed the first two single shooter drills and witnessed two innocent victims on the floor and the shouts and shots as the officers put the lessons Marsal taught them into action.

“The first drill didn’t take so well,” Guaynt said. “They shot some of the bystanders. We don’t want that. They didn’t know if they were bad guys, good guys. They got kind of carried away.”

The chief said, however, “That’s what training is for. You’re not going to do everything perfect the first time. I’d much rather them get the training on how to do this the correct way here than in a real life situation. The first group got some counseling on how to do the steps better. They’ll do two more scenarios today so by the third I guarantee you they’re better.”

The second group, he said, was spot on. “They did great. They did everything they were supposed to do. The difference is the first group didn’t have the training, years of experience and doing this before versus the second group.”

The second group was made up of seasoned officers. “That’s why they did so much better. Again, muscle memory, the more you do it the better you get at it.”