Terror and death can strike anyone at any time. That's the lesson for Winter Haven, Florida, middle school students, parents and teachers, who were treated to a very special episode of terror last week after the local police staged a mass shooting drill on the school grounds without warning anyone beforehand.
One officer in civilian attire pretended to be a deranged shooter with an AR-15, other uniformed officers burst into filled classrooms with their loaded service pistols drawn, and everybody sort of freaked the fuck out as the organized chaos unfolded last Thursday, according to the Washington Post:
According to Fox affiliate WTVT, officials at Jewett Middle Academy e-mailed parents to inform them of the drill, after it took place. By that point, WTVT reports, cellphones were already filling up with texts from frightened students, who thought there was a real shooter in the school.
In a later statement to The Post, spokesperson Jamie Brown for the Winter Haven police department said they were only aware of one student who texted a parent during the exercise.
"Unfortunately, no one gets an advanced notice of real life emergencies," Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Gearey said in an e-mailed statement to The Washington Post. "We don't want students to be scared, but we need them to be safe."
"I thought he was going to shoot me," one child texted to her mother, referring to the convincing faux-assailant.
Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird told WTVT that the surprise was exactly what officials intended. "It's very important that, when you do your drill, you do it without everyone knowing that it's a drill," Bird said. "How you train and how you prepare is how you're going to react when everything goes bad."
Sometimes, you have to irreparably fracture a confused adolescent psyche in order to save it.
Nevertheless, the school district apologized to parents and the police vowed that they wouldn't draw down on any kids "in future lockdown drills," so you've got that to look forward to, students. Any... day... now. Could be today. Or not! Good luck on that 5th period algebra test.
[AP Photo: Lt. Greg Gallant, of the Methuen, Mass. police department, portrays an active shooter as he roams the halls of a school with an assault rifle, loaded with dummy rounds, during a demonstration Tuesday, November 11.]