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PALMVIEW – Last Thursday, law enforcement and first responders reacted to a simulation of two men shooting at a school at a La Joya Independent School District elementary. The two men went into the school carrying semi-automatic training rifles and handguns and acted out firing at students. A campus officer was taken down in the simulated gunfire as the two men went through the campus, sparing no one in their path.
All of this was done at Henry B. Gonzalez Elementary to simulate an actual active shooter drill. Approximately 26 different law enforcement and first responder agencies were on scene to put their training to the test. The drill lasted nearly six hours.
The shooters and agencies used training weapons, which simulate real gunfire. One shooter was shot while the other shooter took a class hostage. A hostage negotiator was on scene to get the remaining gunman to give himself up to the officers.
It took approximately 15 minutes for all of the main action to start taking place after the initial “call” that a shooter was on campus. Law enforcement vehicles started arriving on scene in less than ten minutes and a medical transport helicopter arrived within 25 minutes to pick up a wounded officer and student.
Wounded students were carefully taken out of the campus after the shooters were apprehended. Some students were rolled out of the campus on chairs and anything else that had wheels. The wounded were then taken to a triage center where they were assessed by a medical team and put on ambulances to area hospitals.
Students were taken to Mission Regional Medical Center, McAllen Medical Center or Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, as area hospitals also participated in the drill.
Everyone responded exactly like they would if it had been a real situation. While there were problems or quirks that arose, the emergency responders made adjustments and made sure everything was taken care of.
Even though the drill took place in the early evening hours, just after school, the drill was supposed to represent a morning shootout just as administration, teachers and students sat down to start their days. The wounded students were LJISD high school drama students who acted as though they had been shot. About 47 students were wounded, and five were reported as casualties in the shooting exercise. Casualties also included one shooter and an officer. Fifteen staff members also participated in the exercise.
The district is always talking about prevention and preparation, said Edén Ramirez, public information officer at LJISD. “We wanted to work on the way our district and local law enforcement would respond to a worst-case scenario.”
While there were instances of some confusion concerning whether all the wounded needed to be sent to a hospital and making sure all students and staff were accounted for, the drill went smoothly.
Robert Dominguez, interim Mission Police Chief, said everyone that was at the drill found something they could improve on during the training. It was important for all the agencies to take part in this drill and get all law enforcement to work together, he added.
“It was regionalized policing working at its best,” said Dominguez. “It’s important for us to work together like this.”
The drill included not only law enforcement, but local fire departments, emergency medical services, and the school district, including the school principal, students, teachers and attendance officer.
“Everybody I think, came up with something that they learned and that (they) can improve on,” said Dominguez.
Dominguez mentioned that the incident was controlled since it was a drill, but it was important to know how to set up a command center and triage area fairly close to the elementary and an area for parents to gather, which was set up at another campus down the road from the elementary.
It was good to see how a triage center would work in a situation like this, said Dominguez. The students were rushed to the center, assessed, checked on a roster, and then determined whether they would be taken by ambulance to a hospital or to meet their parents. We all gained a better understanding of what we are required to do, said Dominguez.
He is looking at is developing plans for all of the school campuses, buildings and major businesses in the area in case a situation like this takes place. He said is looking at where a command post would be situated, where a triage would be, and how they would keep track of where people are sent. There are things he learned at the drill he would not have thought about if he had not been there, he said.
“It was a learning experience,” he said. We train as much as we can and then try to control the chaos when it happens, he added.
Dominguez said his officers are trained to react immediately to whatever threat there is, and that is certainly a bonus when officers are at Mission and Sharyland school campuses. There is immediate response. Once the threat is recognized, then other measures can be activated and get a regionalized team to respond to the threat.
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.