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Active shooter drill held in Youngsville

‘It's very intense’

Volunteer victims (from left) Aaren Keller, Madalynn Perry, and Shelby Lobdell, disoriented from their ordeal, run away from the exit from Youngsville Elementary School during an active shooter drill Saturday afternoon.

Gunshots (from a blank gun) rang out from Youngsville Elementary School on Saturday.

Local law enforcement, emergency medical, and fire department officials participated in an active shooter incident drill hosted by Warren County School District.

The first shots – four of them – were fired at 1:04 p.m.

The emergency call went out at 1:06 p.m.

There were only eight law enforcement officers – from Youngsville Borough Police, Warren County Sheriff’s Office, City of Warren Police, Warren County Adult Probation, and Conewango Township Police – available at the time of the drill. Pennsylvania State Police troopers arrived later.

A rescue task force (RTF) removes a wounded victim from Youngsville Elementary School Saturday afternoon during an active shooter drill. About 30 local responders joined eight law enforcement officers in the drill.

The officers were staged outside the building, but, in order to create a more realistic response, were kept from simply running in all at once.

Warren County School District Safety and Security Coordinator Brandon Deppen released the officers to head into the building in ones and twos over several minutes, reflecting the time it would take them to arrive in a real emergency.

Before Deppen sent the first officers into the building, more shots rang out. First two, then eight more single shots over about two minutes.

Youngsville Borough Police Officer Ben Leach and Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and School Resource Officer Chris Riche were the first to enter – at about 1:08 p.m.

The first obstacle they faced was a locked outer door. They passed that trial quickly (without damage to school property) and entered the building.

Warren County Sheriff’s Office Deputy and School Resource Officer Chris Riche (left) and Youngsville Borough Police Officer Ben Leach rush toward the entrance of Youngsville Elementary School after (simulated) shots rang out from the school Saturday afternoon during an active shooter drill.

They headed down the main hall to the west, toward where they were told the shooter might be.

Deputy and School Resource Officer Josh Warmath was the next to enter, maintaining a rear guard.

Shots rang out again. This time from upstairs. All three officers dropped their caution and moved to the stairs to neutralize the threat – Warmath running to close the gap between himself and the others.

Once upstairs, they followed the sounds again.

Rapid-fire rounds – both the ‘shooter’ and the officers were using Simunition – non-lethal training ammunition for the fire-fight – were fired while the officers were still near the top of the stairs.

Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry City of Warren Police Officer Wade Suppa leads two victims out of a barricaded classroom at Youngsville Elementary School during an active shooter drill Saturday afternoon.

They tracked the shooter to a classroom at the end of the D hallway.

He had locked himself in and created a barricade.

The SROs had keys to the room and unlocked the door quickly. Once officers breached the door, many shots were fired very quickly. Moments later, the radio call went out that a suspect was in custody – and deceased.

It was 1:13 p.m.

There were about 30 local emergency medical responders waiting for the chance to save the lives of the victims of the attack.

The danger was not known to be over – there could have been other threats. So, before the RTFs – rescue task forces – entered the building to aid the 15 victims – 13 volunteers and two manikins – officers had to clear the building. They worked in groups of two, checking every room.

Once an area with a clear path to the entrance had been cleared, officers escorted RTFs into the building.

“Law enforcement is in charge of overall team security,” Butler County Community College Training Coordinator Tom Buttyan said. “The RTF is in charge of treating patients.”

Once the two groups teamed up, officers went ahead, finding patients and helping RTFs get safely to them.

The members of the RTF evaluated the victims and determined whether or not they would be taken out.

“Communicate,” Emergycare Director of Operations and one of the EMS evaluators for the exercise Todd Steele said. “The EMS providers need to let law enforcement know what’s going on.”

There was some overlap in the effort. At times, officers helped carry wounded or dragged them toward safety on their own.

During training, both groups were told that RTFs should enter the building with an officer ahead of them and an officer behind.

With only eight officers available at the start – some of them still clearing areas of the building – a decision was made to send RTFs with escorts of only one officer. That decision received approval during the after-action debriefing. “Whoever made that call made a good call,” City of Warren Police Capt. Jeff Dougherty said.

All 15 victims were found and removed from the building. Two were dead on arrival.

The rest were sent to the triage area where a team determined which had to be taken away first and which could wait.

All were eventually transported – nine by ambulance and four of the ‘walking wounded’ by bus – for treatment of a variety of injuries.

The drill wasn’t the only training event on the day. In the morning, emergency medical responders underwent a rescue task force awareness class.

Warren County Public Safety Director Ken McCorrison offered to host the class again for interested responders.

Warren County School District officials and others watched the events play out from the school library – one of the areas that was out-of-bounds for the exercise.

The learning experience was not limited to Warren County law enforcement, emergency medical, fire, and school officials. There were representatives from Corry Area School District and Crawford County Public Safety as observers and evaluators for the event.

During the debriefing, Deppen told all of the responders that there are ‘go bags’ and buckets containing tourniquets and other life-saving materials in school offices and classrooms throughout the district.

“Some things don’t work,” Youngsville Borough Police Chief Todd Mineweaser said. “We persevered. These guys worked like dogs today. I was impressed.”

“The law enforcement part of it went very well,” Dougherty said. “We tried to set them up for failure.”

Dougherty said that, even though they know it is a drill, responding officers get a rush of adrenaline when the exercise begins and they start looking for a bad guy in a school.

“It’s very intense,” he said. “You guys did a good job of staying focused and pushing through that.”

“This is where you learn,” Crawford County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Allen Clark said. “The class was great, but you know when you put the gear on… the guns on… it’s as real as it’s going to get.”

“It’s eye-opening every time,” Conewango Police Lt. Randy Carlson, who has been involved in similar drills three times before, said.

“Were there mistakes? Yes,” Buttyan said. “The whole point of doing this is not to get it right. It’s to make mistakes.”

“You did the training,” he said. “That’s going to make your community better.”

“This type of drill gives all participants the opportunity to work together and address problems,” Deppen said.

“On behalf of our kids and our staff, I want to thank you for spending your Saturday with us,” Superintendent Amy Stewart said.

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