JOLIET, Ill. — At Joliet Junior College's "Active Shooter Drill" Wednesday, not only was the shooter scenario and police response realistic to an actual emergency situation, but so was the survival instinct of some unexpected heroes.
This year's annual drill had the most participants ever, said Chief Pete Comanda of the Joliet Junior Collage Campus Police. The college has offered the drill every year since 2008, and Wednesday two sessions were offered.
This year, it took place in the college's brand new Health Professions Building, which just opened last week.
Although the timing is fresh after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, JJC already had the event planned, said Ed Vasil, environmental, health, and safety manager. The tragic event in Connecticut did not change the outline of the drill, but has JJC thinking of ways to educate its youngest students in their child care program.
"We do fire drills and tornado drills with our little kids, and that scares them enough. How do we teach them about a person who could come in with a gun?," he asked. "That's going to be the challenge."
More than 100 people attended the first drill as participants and observers. Many were JJC faculty, but there were also epresentatives from police and administration at Prairie State College, Chamberlain College of Nursing, Kankakee Community College, South Suburban College, Devry University, Governors State University, and Hickory Creek Middle School in Frankfort.
"It's a way to increase your potential of surviving," said Comanda. "It's had a very positive effect on people. Some have come two or three times because it's good to see. There is always something new you can pick up from it."
The event started with a video called "Shots Fired. When Lightning Strikes," which taught viewers that although being involved in an active shooter situation is as rare as being struck by lightning, being prepared can save you and others' lives.
The video went through three options a person has in such a situation: evacuate, hide out, or take action against the shooter.
Like a flight attendant does for fliers, people should note the escape routes of their place of business so if they are faced with an active shooter situation, they know their options to get out. People need to plan their route, leave their belongings and, if possible, evacuate, regardless of whether others want to follow. If possible, help others escape and prevent others from entering where the shooter is. Call 9-11 once safe.
If it is not possible to evacuate, the video instructs people to find a place to hide. The hiding place should be out of the shooter's view, provide protection, such as a locked door, and not restrict a person's movements. Once entered, lock the door, barricade the door and turn out the lights. Cell phones should be silenced, radios, televisions or any other source of noise should be turned off, and people should hide behind large items like desks or cabinets.
Action against the shooter should only be done if your life is in imminent danger. Acting aggressively, throwing items, improvising weapons, yelling and committing to your actions are key.
Two sister shooters were the assailants in the drill. Their "plan" was to put bombs around the college throughout the day and at the end of the day set off the bombs and break out on a shooting spree, said Comanda during the debriefing session after the drill.
The main shooter, played by campus officer Jackie Healy, was distraught over being kicked out of the nursing program at JJC and was searching for the professor, "Mr. Smith,"who was flunking her. When she could not find him, she became agitated and started entering random classrooms looking for him.
"I'm going to take this into my own hands. I tried to be nice. I pay $2,000 a semester for nursing school and no one seems to care," she yelled through the hall before entering another classroom.
When she finally found him in a class, she confronted him and, as he tried to calm her down, she shot him.
Those in the neighboring classroom immediately shut and locked their door.
Down the hall, Healy's "sister," played by Campus Safety Officer Amanda Anderson, was supposed to leave a bomb in the classroom where she was and start shooting, but her "peers" believed she was acting strangely, saw her gun, and fought her to the ground.
The participants in her class were not instructed to attack her. In fact, the plan was for her to shoot up the classroom and move on to others in the building. But after watching the video, the participants were in survival mind-set.
"The people decided to rush me. They disarmed me and (sat on her) and waited for the police to show up," said Anderson during the debriefing.
Chief Comanda said the people in that room cut the assailants' plans in half by detaining the second shooter. If not, she would have gotten out of the room and killed twice the amount of people.
"You did exactly what you were supposed to do," he said.
A passerby in the hallway tried to take down the first shooter by grabbing her arm and trying to pull her to the ground, but he was shot and killed.
The police ended up taking down the first sister. But not before she went to other classrooms looking for her sister, pretending to be a victim who was shot, begging people to open doors. No one listened, keeping her locked out and enabling the police team armed with rifles and shields to find her.
In one of the rooms, Courtney Kohn Sanders, head of Governors State University's Emergency Response Team, was on the phone with dispatch when the shooter was trying to get into her classroom. The people inside were arguing on whether the woman at the door was really a victim or not and Sanders asked the dispatcher if they should let her in the room.
"She said, 'I advise you not to let her in,' so I screamed that out and then I got shot through the window," Sanders said.
Prior to the drill, the participants were given a number to call as a substitute 9-11 so they could talk to actual dispatchers and campus police officers could be dispatched and respond from wherever they were, as though it was an actual emergency.
"There is no right or wrong answer. You just have to make a judgment call at that time," said Comanda.
In the end, there were four victims who were killed, including the first sister.
The goal was to get people to think and prepare themselves during their daily routines, said campus officer Paul Jerantowski. It worked.
Patty Osborne, special programs accountant for JJC, was one of the participants in a classroom where the gun shots could be heard. The whole experience has made her stop and think.
"I'll definitely be taking my cell phone with me everydwhere I go. I don't have it with me right now and it could have come in handy," said Osborne.
"I will be more aware of my surroundings," she continued.
For more information on JJC's "Active Shooter Drill," visit jjc.edu or call Chief Pete Comanda at (815) 280-6606.