Bedford police shooter drill a valuable lesson in preparedness

Police and Bedford schools staged a realistic school shooting drill in April, complete with hostages and mock injuries – the kind of drill that is becoming more common across the country. The Bedford Police Department sponsored the simulated shooter alert at Bedford High School and Ross A. Lurgio Middle School on April 28, replicating a situation in which one or more shooters would infiltrate the campus and take hostages.

Responders included police from Bedford Merrimack, Manchester, Londonderry, Goffstown and New Boston, along with New Hampshire State Police and Hillsborough County deputies. Members of the Bedford Fire Department and Bedford CERT – Community Emergency Response Team – were participants.

Students from the Drama Club at the high school volunteered to take on acting roles as hostages. They wore lanyards with tags that described wounds or other injuries. Traffic was detoured throughout the day and the schools were closed for the drill.

Kathy Satter, a Bedford resident who was out jogging that morning, saw the commotion as vehicles with official-looking emblems pulled into the parking lot at County and Nashua roads.

Satter, a telecommunications engineer consultant, said she chose to jog near the school in hopes of seeing some of the well-publicized drill.

“When these shooting attacks first started happening, not many knew how to respond,” Satter said. “It was so unexpected. I would think the local authorities would want to practice and learn from the experience of others.”

Ron Michaud, director of Bedford CERT, and around a dozen members assisted the Bedford police in any way requested. The CERT team secured various sections of the campus and ensured that only drill participants were permitted access.

“No one in, no one out,” Michaud said. “The value of this is to have school administrators and the police more prepared, in case anything ever happens. It’s reality, right now. You hear it on the news.”

Les Carter, a former principal at Thorntons Ferry School in Merrimack, retired in 2008. He now acts as a consultant to emergency management personnel focused on school safety. In 2007, he led an emergency evacuation at the elementary school when a transformer exploded.

Some 700 students were transported quickly, according to evacuation protocols, to Reeds Ferry School. Online reviews of the incident at that time praised the process as one that kept kids safe from potentially toxic emissions.

“Some form of police or fire emergency could happen anywhere,” Carter said. “We’re happy to learn from today’s drill.”

Security was tight at the drill, as safety was a priority. Incoming troopers and officers from every jurisdiction underwent a weapons check upon entry. Bedford police Officer Kevin Bowen and Firearm Safety Officer volunteer Carl Wagner, of Health Trust Inc. in Concord, inspected arrivals to make sure no loaded weapons remained on-site. Bowen and Wagner were assisted in documenting their findings by Jaimy Rosario, a student intern at the Bedford Police Department.

Rosario, of Manchester, graduates on May 17 with a degree in criminal justice from St. Anselm College. She said she observed all she could that day and took note of the pre-event briefings, the safety instructions, the directions for approaching the would-be shooters, the mandates related to treatment of the student volunteers, and other moves that comprised the successful drill.

“It’s important for the volunteers to see what goes on in an active-shooter, real-life training drill,” Rosario said. “You have to be prepared for anything.”

Bowen concurred. He said that if the drill were a genuine emergency, many of the maneuvers practiced that day would be applied.

“If something like this drill was to go down, It would look like this,” Bowen said. “We’re trying to make it as real as possible.”

Bedford Police Chief John Bryfonski thanked all who attended and remained in close contact with an extensive team of participants, evaluators, controllers, radio transmission teams, school administrators and town representatives, including Town Manager Steve Daly, Bedford school Superintendent-elect Chip McGee, current Superintendent Tim Mayes, and other witnesses.

McGee, who will take on his new post in June, has 11 years of experience as the school district’s assistant superintendent.

He said he has been around since the road to the school campus was just a hiking hill on a nice trail.

“The important thing is that we hope this type of thing never happens,” McGee said. “We’re happy to support the police.”

Daly said the shooter alert added a measure of security in that all who participated were more familiar with the measures that might ensure safety in the schools, by the end of the drill.

“I think it is essential to make sure we’re prepared for any law enforcement intervention in the schools,” Daly said. “This is obviously a worst-case scenario and it is good to prepare for a worst-case scenario, especially if a lesser event should occur.”

Bedford police and fire officials stationed at a command center inside the department’s Incident Command Vehicle monitored the action taking place inside the school. Two shooters were reported.

Students screamed for help as they clustered in hallways and on upper floors. Ed Joyce, principal at the middle school, acted as one of those trapped near the school’s office.

A radio broadcast monitored by Bedford Fire Chief Scott Wiggin could be overheard by those who remained in the parking lot. Bits of the intermittent reports, clear enough to decipher, drifted within earshot. One could hear over the loudspeaker, “Got one running toward the office!”

Finally, the action subsided. A cluster of students, fingers intertwined atop their heads, was led down the hill. The posture is required until it is determined that nobody has a weapon and the group harbors none who committed the attacks.

Joyce called the experience intense. He said the schools perform drills throughout the year to reinforce the practices that may keep everyone safe in a real situation.

“It’s pretty intense,” Joyce said. “When you’re hunkered down waiting, it can be unnerving. This type of emergency is becoming more prevalent. To be prepared is very important.”

Harrison Lanuza, 18, a senior, and his sister, Claire, 16, a sophomore, were among those who played victims. Claire said two shooters were present. Neither came out alive.

Each student’s lanyard carried a card outlining injuries. Harrison said he and his sister fell to the floor near the main office. He commended her loud screaming, for it successfully brought rescuers to them.

She had listed on her card some lacerations to the mouth and face. He had a gunshot to the head. He was dead. But thankfully, not really.

For more information, contact the Bedford Police Department by calling 472-5113.