Gun shots rang out through the hallways of Sterlington Elementary Saturday, which created a better learning environment for the Active Shooter Class, a simulated drill of a gunman on campus, on a shooting rampage.
Members of the Cenla Tactical Group, along with five other law enforcement agencies, trained with Sterlington Police officers a better understanding of what to do in the case of an emergency situation. During the six drills, each officer ran through the hallways in search of the shooter, with trainers following close behind.
The traditional active shooter class consists of law enforcement only. This drill was different. To add to the officers level of distress and make it appear more realistic, some of the school's faculty hid inside the classrooms while students from Sterlington High volunteered to play the roles of victims.
The purpose of faculty and students present was more than to add a realistic flair for the officers, they were there to learn as well. CTG instructor Donald Duncan said the faculty was a huge part of the puzzle that they'd been missing. Duncan said Saturday's turnout was the largest faculty attended drill they've ever had.
With their guns drawn, each officer cautiously entered a side entrance of the school, greeted by gunshots and screams coming from unknown origins. As quickly as possible, they checked every room for the shooter. A point that was stressed was that they were to stop at nothing until the suspect was located.
When Capt. Jerry Hurst, with the SPD, participated, his drill contained a twist that hit close to home. As he turned every corner, he witnessed more bodies laying on the ground, that he was ordered to pass without stopping. The students had been told to cry for help in an attempt to elevate the officer's heart rate and cause them to think under pressure.
Hurst's daughter had been unexpectedly placed on the ground at the end of a hallway, portraying herself as a victim. As Hurst approached her, she cried out, "Daddy, help me." Unable to stop, Hurst persevered with his only goal being to find the shooter.
CTG instructor Donald Duncan commended Hurst afterwards for proceeding nonstop through every barrier. He reminded him and the other officers about the importance of not stopping.
"I don't care if it's your own child laying there shot and injured," he said. "Even if your child is taking their last breath, you can't stop for one minute to comfort them. If you stop, you might have to explain later why you allowed the gunman to take more lives."
Hurst said the drill really, "opened his eyes." In addition to teaching him to expect the unexpected, he said it caused him to think of other circumstances he hadn't before.
"As you can see, the layout of this school is very confusing," Hurst said. "We're in the process of getting the blueprints of all the schools so we'll know our way around them better."
Hurst's' wife, Joyce, was present during the drill as well, so that she could be better informed as the parent. She said the layout of the school had been a concern for her and she was relieved to see the faculty being advised on what to do.
"Each classroom in this building has a different protocol," she said. "Take the cafeteria for example. It's layout is potentially different than a classroom. I think it was a good idea for the teachers to get involved."
Sterlington Chief Barry Bonner agreed that it was crucial for the teachers to know what to do in this situation.
"I wanted the teachers to hear the gunshots and smell the gunpowder," Bonner said. "God forbid if this ever happened, it wouldn't be the first time they've heard it. When it comes down to it, they're the ones initially faced with the gunman. If they're not getting trained, how will they know what to do?"
Sheila Hines works in maintenance in the Orange Hall at the elementary. She attended the drill to get a better understanding of what it might be like.
"I want to protect my babies," she said. "These students mean so much to me. I know what gunfire in this school sounds like now. If I hear that sound again, I know better now what to do."
Bonner said once law enforcement arrived at the scene, their main concern is to find the gunman and get his attention.
"These drills are typically done in teams," he said. "Realistically, only one to two officers will be the first to arrive. Their whole purpose is to come into contact with the shooter and get his attention. Every second he looks at you, his attention is off the students."
When Capt. Hurst was asked about the well being of the gunman once he's located, he answered, "He's my last concern."
"You have to stop the threat," he said. "Whether he takes his own life or I take him out, the final result needs to be that no more students get hurt."