South Suburban School Prepares for Worst-Case Scenario with 'Active Shooter' Drill

Campus police were joined by more than 150 community members in playing out a fictitious story line in which two sisters with guns ambushed Joliet Junior College.

Pete Sedlacek, a member of the National Guard and a Romeoville resident, had something to tell Joliet Junior College Police Chief Pete Comanda. Pulling out his dog tags, he told him that if someone with a gun was coming at him, he wouldn't be sitting by and doing nothing.

And Sedlacek stayed true to his word Wednesday afternoon, taking an active role in Joliet Junior College's "active shooter" drill.

Every year for the last five years, the JJC Police Department hosts a drill to train its staff and community members about what to do if a gunman actually does come on campus and begin shooting.

Nearly 160 people attended the drill, which was held just weeks after a shooter went into the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and killed 26 people, most of them children. In the last two decades, there have been similar incidents in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois universities, and at a high school in Columbine, Colo.

In each case, the situation was very different, Comanda said.

"There's not a perfect answer in any of these situations," he said.

For the Wednesday drill -- which was conducted once in the morning and again in the afternoon -- police arranged a scenario in which two sisters (played by members of the JJC Police Department) ambushed the school. One sister began her attack in a hallway of JJC's new Health Professions building. The other was in a classroom.

"Every time we do this, things come out completely different," Comanda said.

That was certainly true Wednesday. In the morning drill, the sister in the classroom was jumped by "students" and never made it into the hallway.

"They easily cut in half the number of people that could have been killed or shot," Comanda said.

In the afternoon session, both sisters "killed" a number of people before "students" were able to intervene and stop them.

The sister roaming the hall made an attempt to re-enter a classroom after having fired many rounds. Edward May, a radiation tech program student from Bolingbrook, was there.

May took a flying leap at the gun woman and took her down.

It took a while for participants to realize there was another shooter. When they did, Sedlacek joined three other men in disarming the second assailant.

Just as that occurred, police arrived on the scene and took control of the situation.

Preparing to Role Play

Prior to the scenario beginning Wednesday afternoon, all participants were given room assignments and limited information on the scenario. Comanda told them that if they felt the situation had escalated to the point that police needed to be involved, they should call campus police at a specific number that was provided rather than 911.

Although area police departments knew the college was conducting a drill, school officials wanted to the police response in-house. Dispatchers asked every caller to confirm it was part of the drill.

Comanda said there's always a concern that someone might find out about the drill and take advantage of the situation, which is why dispatchers screen callers just to be sure the emergency isn't real.

The afternoon session resulted in about five phone calls to police. The first was for a disruptive student who was playing that role as part of the drill, but who was not one of the active shooters. All the other calls were in reference to the shooters.

After the drill played out, all the participants gathered to discuss the events and their reactions to the event. All the participants were different. And people get so involved in their roles that they forget for a time that they are in a drill. Even I, who was clearly identified with a yellow vest as not being a participant, raised my hands when police rounded the corner because that was what they had told us to do when police entered the building.

In each of the drills Wednesday, though, participants saved lives by their actions.

"In both scenarios, the actions they took brought the scenario to an end," Comanda said.


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