The court administrator for the 2nd Judicial Circuit lay dead in the courthouse hallway, his crisp white shirt stained in the color of blood.
One of the deputies who regularly greets visitors when they enter the county courthouse to be searched was shot and wounded, needing to be airlifted for immediate trauma care.
It had all happened so quickly, a gang of masked shooters with AR-15 rifles bursting in, and firing without flinching at innocents running for cover.
County employees swiftly locked their doors and rushed into vaults and bathrooms or hid under desks on hearing the crack of blanks, that unmistakable pop and burst of fire that marks a gunshot.
In all, several dozen rounds were fired, some leaving a tiny drop of paint on the bulletproof vests worn by the lawmen taking part in the active shooter exercise Friday afternoon.
Together with cooperation of the sheriff’s office, both police departments, all the constitutional officers, health care providers, the trial court administration staff of 2nd Judicial Circuit coordinated the exercise, which was preceded by weekly meetings over the last couple months.
After courthouse employees were fully briefed on what would happen, told how to respond, and required to sign a liability form, the afternoon affair went off without incident, other than the “shootings” and “killings” that were planned to help law enforcement iron out details of how best to respond should such a tragedy strike.
Lt. Gary Martina was the point man for the sheriff’s office, and Sheriff A.J. Smith praised him, his staff, each of the law enforcement personnel who took part and the civilians who made it a success.
“I thought it went well for a first time, never having an active shooter drill there before,” Smith said. “It certainly showed us we need to continue to train together because training makes you better. A lot of training went into it.
“Anytime you do an active shooter drill, you have to be really careful. We were really really careful,” he said. “What we were trying to demonstrate how quickly an active shooter scenario unfolds, how quickly they can come in, and what gunfire sounds like in that building. A lot of people were amazed.”
A review of lessons learned took place this week, and will continue, said the sheriff, “to find out where our weak spots are and to try to harden them up.”
He said one lesson so far pertains to the courthouse entry, which could be in line for structural improvements and a tightening up of procedures.
“They’re going to try to reach the area where security is and try to overpower them, or they could come in and break some glass doors,” Smith said. “We could putting some additional measures in place. I think you can still have the kind of access you have, but I’d like to see more bulletproof (structures).”
For the most part, courthouse staffers, when hearing the shot, did their best to follow the advice of law enforcement, to get down, get away, get help.
“If you can run away, you do, and if you can’t, then you hide,” said Smith.
He stressed there’s a difference between having cover and running for concealment, under a desk or in a bathroom. “Right now there’s no cover,” he said. “Cover will keep a bullet from going through it.”
The last of the exercises was held entirely in the main courtroom.
A jail inmate, on learning he would not be able to attend his mother’s funeral before he went off to prison for life, managed to seize a deputy’s gun and fired wildly before he was subdued by officers.
Another jail inmate, in trouble for meth, reacted violently with a knife when she learned from her new lawyer her children would be taken away from her. She stabbed her attorney before being “killed” by officers.
“We had great involvement from everyone,” said Grant Slayden, the 2nd Judicial Circuit’s trial court administrator, who was “shot” earlier and later “stabbed” by his co-worker, Elizabeth Garber.
“They gave us the freedom to use the real workplace,” he said. “I think we learned a lot in the planning; everyone got better. There was a lot of communication, a lot of training and practice, and it paid off.
“Everyone has awareness and they’ve thought about in their workplace what to do,” said Slayden.
One area that was handled in the exercise was that of emergency medical care. Arrangements had been made to land an air ambulance at Ten Foot Hole, but that had to be scrapped because the copter had been diverted to an actual emergency.
But Weems ambulance staffers were on hand to handle the emergency, led by Jared Wester, who has earned additional certification and training in technical emergency casualty care, which enables him to work alongside law enforcement in the event a scenario unfolds such as the one Friday.
Smith said that training is all the more important since the county lacks a SWAT team.
“You don’t have to be a SWAT team. We don’t have the personnel or the time, it takes monthly trainings and stuff like that” he said. “We will all be training together so we can respond effectively. You have got to continue to train in all these areas to be proficient.”
Slayden said any additional costs down the road would be the responsibility of the county.
“The court has talked about coming up with ways to assist them,” he said. “The court does have some local fees and fines money we would contribute.
“It’s not a large sum of money but usually the improvements are a reasonable sum of money,” Slayden said. “There used to be homeland security grants, but there’s not as much money today. We can always apply for those monies.”