Originally created 08/17/00

School violence drill hones skills



It was a chaotic scene: Two gunmen entered the cafeteria at Greenbrier High School and opened fire.

One shooter moved around the cafeteria, firing at helpless victims and barking commands - occasionally jumping onto tables and kicking a trash can for effect.

"Looks like we're bad, doesn't it?" one gunman screamed.

Emergency lights flashed along the walls as a second gunman - who fled the cafeteria - pulled the fire alarm, and the command for lock-down was given over the school's intercom.

In the cafeteria, those who were unable to flee out the back door cowered under lunchroom tables before being forced into one corner by the gunman. One woman screamed hysterically while holding one of the wounded.

Ten people were shot, some several times. In the end, four people were dead - one a victim of a heart attack.

Within minutes of the first shots, a five-man team from the Columbia County Sheriff's Office and the school's safety officer entered the cafeteria and took down the gunman. Horizon Emergency Medical Services arrived to transport the wounded. In the meanwhile, the second gunman had moved to the front office and taken hostages.

Fortunately, Wednesday's traumatic scene was only a drill. Columbia County's school system, the Emergency Management Agency, local law enforcement, fire departments, EMS and the county's 911 center participated. In all, about 15 agencies and more than 600 people took part.

Those involved in the full-scale school violence drill said the event was a success because everybody learned something.

"I can feel it in the air - the excitement," EMA Director Pam Tucker said. "People have learned today, and this is such a positive thing for Columbia County schools."

The assailants were actually employees of Columbia County Water Works - Mike Freund and Margaret Doss - pretending to be students who returned to school and opened fire on other students and school personnel. The victims were personnel from Columbia County schools, also acting as students.

After shootings such as those at Columbine High School and in Conyers, Ga., the participants said the school violence exercise is helpful.

"I think it's good," said Greenbrier High teacher Sharon Florence, who played a victim shot three times. "They can say we're going to have these drills, but when it's managed like this, I think it becomes a lesson for us."

Although the initial shooting spree ended quickly, the entire exercise took about an hour and a half as the sheriff's Special Response Team searched for and apprehended the second shooter and cleared the building.

Now, a formal evaluation will be done to look at what problems might have come up during the drill. Teams from the various agencies were assigned tasks to evaluate - such as how EMS responded or how the sheriff's office handled the hostage situation. A meeting to go over the evaluations has been scheduled for Wednesday.

"The main thing we're trying to get from this is, does the plan we have in place .ƒ.ƒ. does it meet the needs for what we're testing today?" Associate Superintendent Charles Nagle said. "If there are changes that need to be made, it gives us an opportunity to make those changes."

Reach Peggy Ussery at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or ussery@augustachronicle.com.