'We need to react:' Whitewater police, school district train for active shooter scenario
WHITEWATER—Jacob Hintz couldn't hear the gunshots from his position in the Whitewater High School auto shop.
All Hintz knew ahead of Wednesday's active shooter training exercise was he, as the school resource officer, would be the first to respond to the shooting and that he would get shot in the leg.
Hintz could not hear the screams from Paxton Bergin, the man who played the shooter, while Bergin fired blanks in the high school's hallways.
Bergin, a Whitewater police community service officer, paced and shouted, “Where is everybody!” “Somebody get out here and talk to me!” and “I want to talk to the principal!”
Hintz heard calls of “shots fired” and “active shooter” over the school's PA system and responded, checking all the doors and rooms on his way.
The training, which included about 150 people, took more than a year to plan. But even the best laid plans are susceptible to the unexpected.
After Hintz saw Bergin, he fired three shots but then heard a “click” on the fourth. His gun had malfunctioned.
Hintz also encountered a locked door he expected to be unlocked.
It was about three minutes from when Bergin first fired shots to when Hintz took him down. In the scenario, three other people were killed and four others wounded.
Jefferson County sheriff's Deputy Bill Dandoy, who helps schools and directs active shooter trainings, praised Hintz's performance Wednesday.
“That guy is a warrior,” Dandoy said. “That guy would have clawed his way through that glass to stop this threat.”
Following the mass shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, when 12 students and one teacher were murdered, law enforcement changed how they responded to such situations, Dandoy said.
Before Columbine, law enforcement would secure a perimeter and wait for SWAT teams to set up and enter, he said.
Now, waiting is much less an option.
“We go in and address the threat,” Dandoy said.
Other prominent school shootings changed how civilians respond to the events.
Dandoy said following the shooting at Virginia Tech, everyone learned they might have to defend themselves if a threat comes into the classroom.
The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School taught everyone that anyone at any school should be prepared, he said.
Some district staff on Wednesday could see what it was like to barricade a classroom or practice what phone numbers to call and when.
There is plenty people can prepare for, but there are some things that can't be scripted.
For these high-pressure and fast-moving situations, there is no perfect formula for every problem, said David Brokopp, district safety coordinator and Lakeview Elementary principal. Different situations may call for people to run for an exit or hide in their classroom.
“Don't wait to be told,” Brokopp said. “We want to react. We need to react.”
He said people should trust their instincts when a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death.
The district is taking practical steps to better prepare for dangerous situations, Superintendent Mark Elworthy said.
As part of the referendum voters approved in 2016, all district schools will get security updates at their main entrances. Guests to the schools will have to go to the main office before they can go anywhere else in the school, Elworthy said.
The district also unveiled a new procedure for staff, once they are safe from danger, to call the district's central office and let administrators know who they are, where they are, who is with them and what phone number they can be reached out.
It all may have been a training, but once things got started, Hintz said it felt real.
“When you're running down that hallway and you hear that call come out, you still get your heartrate up,” Hintz said. “You're still getting the adrenaline rush. And all of a sudden you don't even know it's a fake thing anymore.
"It's all real.”