From Columbine to Sandy Hook, deadly school shootings have become engrained in our nation's memory. While these types of shootings are very rare in the grand scheme of things, they can and do happen.
In the last decade, East Tennessee has endured a couple of fatal shootings at schools in Campbell County and Knoxville.
As students in McMinn County wrap up the summer and prepare to head back to school, deputies were already in the halls and classrooms on Wednesday to prepare for a worst-case school scenario.
"We have always trained somewhat, but not like this," said McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy. "We're conducting an active shooter exercise at Rogers Creek School where the drill involves someone who is inside the school and shooting people. Today the officers are actively entering the school, have to locate the threat, and neutralize the threat as quickly and safely as possible."
Guy said previous training consisted of watching various videos and other work that was more academic in nature. However, to actually do something is to understand it.
"It's really good for these guys to see real live training with all the distractions. They are having to deal with victims, having to deal with staff, and have a kid asking for their help when there is still a threat. They have to be able to put the distractions aside and neutralize the threat before they can stop to tend to people, otherwise the casualties continue to grow," said Guy.
Wednesday's drill included volunteers acting as blood-soaked victims, shell casings on the floor, and the smell of gunpowder while pursuing a living breathing target. The realistic sensory overload burns the training exercise into the officers' memories.
"These exercises are a good way to reinforce things people did right and what they did wrong. It stays with you," said Guy.
During one of the exercises, the officers did not restrain the suspect after he was already shot and seemingly dead on the ground. As they continued their pursuit of a second shooter, the first shooter surprised them from behind with a life-saving lesson.
Like a line from a villain who just won't die in a Hollywood action movie, the shooter jumped the deputies from behind and shouted, "You thought you had me, didn't you!" The trainees turned and shot him again, unable to avoid smiling at the overly-dramatic nature of their coworker's acting skills. Sheriff Guy then reminded the trainees, "Nobody 'cuffed him."
"I'm very encouraged. This is a whole new level of training for our department," said Guy.
Sheriff Guy said the training has also helped identify improvements that can be made in the schools. Specifically, Guy said schools should consider clearly labeling each hallway with its own number or letter. These labels would help officers unfamiliar with a school's layout navigate and identify their current location with fellow law enforcement.