A teacher ran out the front doors of Shiloh Point Elementary School screaming.
“Officer, officer, the shooter’s up there, in the stairwell,” she yelled.
A team of four Forsyth County Sheriff’s deputies burst through the doors and headed toward the stairs, stepping past a staff member lying on the floor calling for help.
After the group reached the second floor and scanned the hallways, they abruptly came to a halt when Sgt. Richard Thompson called out “nice job.”
Thompson recapped the good work of the deputies “trying to get full coverage” during a training scenario Wednesday afternoon.
All sworn officers who carry guns must attend one of the sessions, which covered strategy and tactics for responding to an active school shooting.
“The reason this is so important is because the tactical plan for this type of situation has to be in place before the situation happens,” said Thompson, who heads the sheriff’s office training section.
“When either one officer arrives at the scene by himself, or if he arrives with four other officers, he cannot afford to wait precious seconds in the parking lot to get some sort of tactical plan together.”
Deputy Tom Little addressed one of the many groups before they entered the staged shooter scenario, asking the deputies to remember their top priority.
Find the shooter.
Little then detailed strategies for deputy formations for protection and the best placement of available weapons.
Thompson said it can be difficult to ask the deputies to head into such a life-threatening situation.
Even if there’s just one deputy with a pistol going up against a shooter using an automatic rifle, the deputy needs to go in.
“Normally, we don’t do that. We wait for someone to get here, more weapons, more offense, whatever. In this type of situation, you just can’t do that,” Thompson said.
“In this type of situation, the mental preparation is just as important as the physical preparation. You’ve got to have in your mind that you won’t hesitate when you go live on scene.”
Deputies may even have to walk past a gunshot victim, by people screaming for help, Thompson said, which is why the training is intended to be intense and as realistic as possible.
“I want to give our guys the confidence to handle this type of situation,” he said.
The agency has received school training before, he said, but this particular scenario was a new one, which came about through the principal of Shiloh Point offering the school to the deputies for this purpose during the summer.
First shift deputies completed the training about three weeks ago, and second shift deputies went on Wednesday.
After a briefing downstairs, a group would complete the scenario and then review what they’d done well and what could have been done better.
Summing up the training, Thompson said, “The only wrong decision is no decision. You need to act.”
The situation warrants that type of response, he said, because any delay when lives are being lost “is unacceptable.”
“When we took the oath of office, we signed up for that inherent risk. The public did not. They deserve to know that in this type of situation, that if someone has to stare down the barrel of a loaded weapon, it will be us, not them.”