How many times has Olympia High School senior Eric Carpenter gone through a lockdown drill at school?
“A lot,” he said. “Too many to count.”
But Tuesday was the first time Carpenter said he’s heard details on what to do if that emergency measure was taking place because an active shooter was on campus. More specifically: when to run, where to stand in a room, how to barricade a door and fight against an intruder, if needed.
Jesus Villahermosa with Crisis Reality Training led seminars this week for all middle and high school students in the Olympia School District. He will be the featured speaker at a districtwide parent-meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Olympia High School.
Carpenter said Villahermosa’s training was informative and held the attention of students.
“It was the quietest assembly I’ve ever been to,” he said.
Olympia superintendent Dick Cvitanich said increasing vigilance around safety is the district’s primary goal for this year. Although student safety has always been a priority, a noninjury school shooting last April in the neighboring North Thurston Public Schools prompted Olympia officials to go over response plans and make sure they are based on the latest research and best practices, he said.
“People are choosing to play out their emotional issues in public areas, whether they’re malls, churches, movie theaters or schools,” Cvitanich said during an August interview with the Olympian. “… We just want to be as vigilant as we can, and have kids know we need to hear from them, and they need to talk to adults so that this stuff doesn’t happen anymore.”
Villahermosa is a retired Pierce County Sheriff’s sergeant who travels around the country to work with schools on safety issues. He told students and staff members that it’s still important to practice lockdowns.
“No shooter to date has breached a locked door, even Columbine,” Villahermosa said.
But most of the attacks occur and are over — the average shooting goes for two to five minutes, he said — before a building can go into a lockdown. Villahermosa said most schools schedule lockdown drills when students are in their classrooms; he said they need to change the timing of those drills to reflect real scenarios.
“Ninety percent of all shootings happen during passing period,” Villahermosa said.
He gave identical presentations around the district. During his training at Reeves Middle School, Villahermosa told students:
▪ There were 94 school shootings between January 2013 and December 2014.
▪ The most deadly school shooting was in 2007 at Virginia Tech. “Thirty-two people died,” he said. “They didn’t have a lock on the door.”
▪ During a lockdown, people should pull window shades, keep low to the ground and stay on the door wall side of a room to limit a suspect’s view, but also to be closer to run out (or thwart an attack) should the door get opened. If there isn’t a lock, try barricading the door, Villahermosa said.
▪ If students hear a threat, they should report it immediately. In the majority of school shootings, the suspect has sent messages to their friends and loved ones about their intentions.
He told students about one suspect who informed a dozen people of his intentions.
“He was hoping someone would stop him,” Villahermosa said. “You, in this room, are the solution to this problem. …You may lose a friend (for reporting a threat) but you’ll save a life.”
▪ If they’re in an area where a gunman is shooting, running away is the best option, he said. Schools tend to train kids to “duck and cover” but that’s become something that shooters expect, and it gives them a chance to shoot more victims.
“If you can see the gun, run,” he said.
Also, he told students to avoid running in a straight line to avoid getting shot. “Who cares if you look weird?” he said, as he demonstrated how to zigzag run around the gym. “You’ll be weird and live.”
Eleven-year-old Samuel Philippsen, a sixth-grader at Reeves Middle School, said he enjoyed the real case scenarios that Villahermosa provided in the training.
“He definitely drilled in your mind, ‘Run from wherever; it’s best to run,’ ” Philippsen said. “People who don’t run have less survivability chance than people who do run.”
Tyler Woods, 14 and an eighth-grader at Washington Middle School, described the training as “eye opening.”
He said he feels safe at school and hasn’t given much thought to school shootings. But he said he feels more prepared, if he’s ever around a gun incident at school or someplace else.
“I feel like I won’t be as panicky as I would have been,” he said. “I feel like I’ll still be scared, but who wouldn’t be? But I’ll think back on this presentation and the things Mr. Jesus said.”
If you go
Jesus Villahermosa with Crisis Reality Training will be the featured speaker at a districtwide parent-meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Olympia High School, 1302 North St. SE, Olympia. The event is free.