By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
First Responders, Students Train For The Unthinkable
0619 Shooter 1
Oakdale Police Officers, from left, Ben Savage, Danny Taylor, Joe Parreira, Andy Stever, and Don Stilwell prepare to breach the doorway of a classroom for a search. RICHARD PALOMA/The Leader

On a weekday morning, two Oakdale Police patrol units respond to a call of a bomb threat at Oakdale Junior High School. When the officers arrive a fire alarm sounds. Within moments, gunshots ring out from the classroom area at the rear of the school, causing students to run.

The officers instinctively respond to “go mode” and team up to seek out and eliminate the threat of an active shooter on the junior high campus.

This incident, reminiscent of Sandy Hook Elementary, Columbine, or even nearby Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, was the beginning of the first scenario in a joint training exercise with the Oakdale Police Department, Oakdale Fire Department, and Oak Valley Hospital in conjunction with the Oakdale Joint Unified School District.

As the scenario unfolded on Thursday morning, role players, consisting of over 30 students and 25 staff members from the Oakdale Joint Unified School District, played out their part as the injured or panicked. Additional police officers, all using blank ammunition, arrived and tactically advanced as a team to locate the at-large gunman.

Even after the shooter in this scenario was taken down, officers still went about systematically clearing the school rooms to make the school site safe for additional first responding units of the fire department and EMTs to arrive and tend to the wounded.

“Annually we revise our site safety plan and do a (school) board review and coordinate with Oakdale Police and first responders,” said OJUSD Director of Pupil Services Larry Mendonca. “After talking with Chief Jenkins we realized it would be a good experience to have another training simulation on a school site.”

With the arrival of fire engines and ambulance crews from Oak Valley ambulance, a makeshift triage area was set up where “wounded” were evaluated and treated based on the condition of their wounds. An area was also designated for a medi-flight response in the south field.

Chief Jenkins and OJUSD School Board President Michael Tozzi were standing in the background observing the activity.

“It’s been five years since we had our last one,” said Jenkins about similar training in the 2007-08 school year at Oakdale High School.

Jenkins said he and some of his staff recently attended law enforcement training by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor who is a nationally recognized expert in the field of school violence and Homeland Security.

“After the updated training we needed an exercise at a school,” Jenkins said.

“The active shooter training was an excellent opportunity for our students and staff to work side by side with law enforcement in an exercise that was mutually beneficial,” said Tozzi. “Our students were excited to be part of the exercise and we learned some lessons on what people do in these situations. The students were able to view law enforcement training to provide a safer environment for their benefit.”

Lt. Keri Redd, who facilitated the joint training, added other scenarios to the training of possible occurrences throughout the day that included an upset parent that turns to gun violence and an intruder, later determined to be armed, seen wandering around the school.

Principal John Simons was appreciative that the training was done at the junior high school.

“Our school is a wide open site,” said Simons. “This will give us some learning opportunities.”

“We got a baseline of where we need to go from here,” added Lt. Redd. “The next step after today is to work with the district and the students on their response.”

A common criticism from some members of the public is that conducting such realistic training with students playing the parts of victims and bystanders and discussing fatal school shootings is that “It’ll scare the children!”

To experts in the field, that’s fine. School shootings and an active shooter is scary, so students should recognize that fear, but they should also be prepared to react and take some solace in seeing their local law enforcement officers practice the response.

After each incident, participating police personnel debriefed their response and actions with Redd.

“Coming in, even though you know it’s a training exercise, when you hear the gunfire, the heart rate really rises,” admitted veteran Police Officer Don Stillwell, perspiring after the first exercise. “We go find the shooter and neutralize the threat like we’re trained to do.”