Cpl. James Denault of the Hyattsville Police Department spent Friday training for an emergency he hopes will never occur: A gunman in the classroom.
During a simulation Friday at DeMatha Catholic High School, a private school in Hyattsville, Denault stood outside a classroom with his gun drawn, waiting for backup, as a gunman — played by Justin Cunningham, assistant dean of students at the school — had several students and a teacher held hostage. Thinking he could wait no longer, he launched into the classroom, pretended to shoot the gunman, handcuffed him and dragged him outside.
DeMatha officials, along with many other schools nationwide, have started to train for situations in which gunmen enter a campus. Since the 1999 Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., in which two teenagers killed 13 people and themselves, many schools across the country have done similar trainings, said Kenneth Trump, president of National Safety and School Security Services, a private consulting group based in Cleveland, Ohio. He said he was happy to hear DeMatha was running the drill, given that many schools across the country are not focused on such drills due to diminished resources.
Principal Daniel McMahon said although he feels the school is safe, having such training was important because he wants the school to be prepared for any situation. He noted that since DeMatha is an open campus, people not affiliated with the school often cut through it.
“There is always the concern that if something where to happen and someone were running from the police, they could come into the school where they could cause a lot of confusion,” he said.
The training, the first of its kind for the school, was organized by school officials in conjunction with the Hyattsville Police Department, who had 10 officers participating, said Lt. Mark Roski, training coordinator for the department. Although teachers, students and officers involved knew training was going to occur after lunch at the school, they did not know the nature of the training until it started, he said. Officers were given plastic training guns for the simulation.
The scenario played out with police getting a call about a disturbance caused by some parents of students at the school. When two officers arrived at the scene, pre-recorded gunshots and screams rang out on the school’s speaker system, and dispatch alerted officers that gunshots had been fired at the school. Teachers and students were told to go into code red, which required them to stay in their classrooms and lock the doors. More officers involved in the training arrived on the scene later and entered the school.
One of the pretend gunmen was on the lower level of a building at the school, and the other in a classroom upstairs. Officers apprehended both gunmen in 8 minutes and 35 seconds.
“I thought things went really well,” Roski said.
Briant Coleman, spokesman for Prince George’s County Public Schools, said some of the county’s public schools have done similar training. This summer, Northwestern High School officials and teachers trained with Hyattsville police on a similar scenario, but with no students present, he said.
Coleman said the last school shooting to occur in the county was in the 1995-96 school year at Largo High School.
McMahon said he thought the training went well overall, although he wanted to ensure that in the future, administrators have their walkie-talkies on them at all times, and noted that there was one area in a school building that could not be seen by the school’s security cameras.
Jamal Robinson, 16, a junior at the school, hid under his desk when Cunningham, pretending to be the gunman, entered the room. He said he enjoyed the exercise overall, and thought the training would help prepare students and teachers if a real gunman were to enter the campus.
“It was high intensity,” he said. “I think they did a really good job of making it seem realistic.”