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The drama begins... The mock shooting drill gunman creeps past the administrative office door at Kenmare High School Thursday (March 6) looking for victims as Stacey Schoemer and Jennifer Nelson watch the action unfolding on the monitor for the school's surveillance cameras.
By Marvin Baker
A man dressed in olive drab green, wearing goggles and carrying an M-16 military assault rifle, walked calmly and slowly into the Kenmare High School commons area Thursday afternoon, March 6, and began firing.
Moments after the first shots rang out, local police, the Ward County Sheriff’s Department and the North Dakota Game & Fish Department were moving into the school in a SWAT team formation.
Kenmare Fire Department personnel and local police quickly sealed off a perimeter around the school, but by the time law enforcement shot the man in the back of the head, killing him, two students and a teacher were dead, five people were critically wounded and six more, including two police officers were wounded, but didn’t have life threatening injuries.
Ambulance crews were as quick on the scene to triage casualties and treat them according to their injuries.
A short time later, the North Dakota Highway Patrol, the U.S. Border Patrol and a Ward County Sheriff’s Department sniper arrived to assist Kenmare police and Ward County deputies who had already neutralized the shooter.
It quickly became evident the ambulance squad was overwhelmed. Because of the number of wounded, there weren’t enough people or vehicles to transport the casualties.
As a result, they had to call Bowbells, the next nearest ambulance to assist with personnel and equipment.
Despite having fewer crew members than there were casualties, the Kenmare Ambulance Squad took a leadership role in this mock shooting exercise, with squad leader Becky Nelson, sometimes resembling a military commander, quickly splitting her crews and getting casualties treated within minutes after the shooting.
At one point, Nelson and two of her EMTs couldn’t gain access to the wounded because a classroom was locked.
She quickly called law enforcement on her cell phone to request assistance to get the door open.
In another instance, Nelson came running into the commons area where police were gathering to analyze the shooting, pleading for assistance.
“I need law enforcement to transport patients,” Nelson said. “I need muscles.”
Ambulance crew member Christian Standard, who acted as an evaluator, said in an after action review that if this actually happened, any small town ambulance wouldn’t have enough personnel and would have to go outside its own crew for assistance.
“Once law enforcement has cleared the area, this is a small town and we’d have to switch roles and start carting out casualties,” he said. “Communication was the key here, but in general we got patients treated in a timely manner.”
In a third situation, two EMTs brought a patient into the commons area in a gurney, only to find out an ambulance driver jumped into the last vehicle, drove it around to the south side of the school in an effort to more quickly get the same casualty stabilized.
In yet a fourth situation that tested the resolve of the ambulance squad, a male EMT escorted a news reporter out of the building. Later, two female EMTs encountered the reporter attempting to take photographs of the wounded. In addition, they subdued an hysterical “parent” who demanded answers.
The scenario was set up by Ward County Emergency Management in an effort to analyze this de facto catastrophe.
Designed to actually stress the numerous agencies, nearly 100 peopleparticipated in the exercise that will be studied and tweaked.
Emergency manager Amanda Schooling said the scenario was set up so shooter Mike Nason would walk into the school unchallenged and look for victims to terrorize throughout the building.
Police didn’t know exactly where Nason was but it took them less than 10 minutes to find him in the gym and stop him in an exchange of gunfire.
“This is where we’re supposed to make mistakes,” Nason, a member of the North Dakota Peace Officers Association, said. “So Heaven forbid it would really happen, but we want the good guys to win.”
English teacher Steph St. Croix was in her classroom when she and several students heard gun shots in another area of the school.
She reacted almost immediately in an effort to conceal her students by opening a closet door and having them get behind it so they wouldn’t be seen from the hallway.
“I wasn’t threatened by the gunman, but I noticed his shadow on the opposite wall as he walked past,” St. Croix said. “I had to hide the students. There were three in my classroom.”
High school student Haley Kohler was one of the students who was seriously injured. She was treated for a head wound and transported to Kenmare Hospital.
She said the entire situation, after the first shots were heard, was realistic.
“They rushed us around and we went into ER and they were testing me for everything,” Kohler said. “They pretended to wrap my head up. They said ‘stay calm, you’ll be OK.’ After the EMTs got to me, it was very realistic.”
Nason, who played the role of shooter very well, said in the AAR that the teams did fairly well in cornering him. Had their been multiple shooters, however, that would have changed things dramatically.
Almost every agency concluded that communications could have been handled better. Emergency management acknowledged the shortcoming and Minot Central Dispatch assured everyone involved it is working on a radio transmission system that will link numerous agencies to one frequency in the event of an emergency.
Part of that lack of communication, according to the incident commander, should have included a public information officer dispatched from the emergency command post who would have responded to media questions and parent concerns.
“We all interacted well,” Standard said. “It’s eye opening and I hope we can all take away something from this to help us.”
In addition to students, teachers, administrators and parents, those involved included the Kenmare Fire Department, Kenmare Ambulance Squad, Kenmare Police Department, Ward County Sheriff’s Department, North Dakota Highway Patrol, North Dakota Game & Fish Department, U.S. Border Patrol, Minot Central Dispatch, The Kenmare News, Ward County Emergency Management, and Kenmare Hospital.
The exercise included players, observers and evaluators. Schooling said Ward County Emergency Management will release official analysis of the exercise to everyone who included comments during the after action review... Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!