By Ann Patton
Academy Spirit staff
The EXERCISE scenario: Brandishing long-gun weapons, a man and a woman, “Jack and Jill,” entered Air Academy High School at 9 a.m. Wednesday and opened fire on students and staff. Four victims died at the scene, and more than dozen were seriously injured.
The incident began during “Academy time” at the school when students are free to mill around the school.
The male shooter was also killed, but not before he shot and killed the school’s resource officer from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
After a three-hour stand-off as the female shooter held hostages in the school’s music room, she was wounded by members of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Special Weapons and Tactics Unit and subsequently taken into custody.
The live shooter exercise included the 10th Security Forces Squadron, Colorado Springs Police Department, Colorado State Patrol, the Academy Fire Department and American Medical Response, as well as the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.
The exercise has been in the works for more than a year. Last fall it went into high gear. The exercise was played out during the high school’s spring break while the building was void of students.
Capt. Andrew Resch, 10th Security Forces Squadron organizer, was pleased with its outcome.
“It went great,” he said.
He had high praise for all participating agencies and their involvement.
“We have a great professional working relationship,” he said. “It’s nice to work together.”
Captain Resch said all agencies involved solidly understood the objective and completed it professionally.
“They were impressive,” he said.
Well more than 20 “players” volunteered to act as shooters, victims and hostages during the exercise, which featured real-life smells of gunfire and sounds of alarms, cries for help and firing weapons. Spent shells littered floors.
With all the flare of a Hollywood blood and gore make-up artist, Verleen Hanes worked her magic depicting gaping wounds, bloody bullet holes in clothing, compound fractures and gunfire abrasions. A former police officer and freelance make-up artist, Ms. Hanes has been performing “moulage,” French for “makeover,” for more than 20 years.
Falcon High School sophomore Ryan Leggett readily volunteered for the role of victim during the exercise.
“I love doing things for the community,” he said. The youth enjoys the company of law enforcement officers and hopes to be one himself sometime.
John Dilks volunteers at the Criminal Justice Center with the Sheriff’s office. He wanted to help out and was also curious about what goes on during a crisis.
“I just wanted to see what it is really like,” he said.
Acting in such an exercise also causes volunteers to consider what they might do during a real crisis.
“I think about my boys,” volunteer hostage Larry Miller said. “I would be hard-pressed not to go in there and get them in a situation like this.”
Julie Froedge is a civilian employee at the sheriff’s training academy. She played the part of “Jill,” the female shooter, with gusto. Despite pleas from the hostage negotiator to “come out, show your hands,” Julie resisted with shouts of, “Go away. Don’t make me kill this guy [a hostage].”
Ms. Froedge has played the role of victim in previous such exercises.
“This is something different,” she said and added more and more females are becoming active shooters.
“This gives officers a different angle,” she said.”
El Paso County Sheriff deputy Sean Ives, Air Academy’s school resource officer, said the way law enforcement operates now is far different than it was before the massacre at Columbine High School April 20, 1999.
“Columbine changed everything for law enforcement,” he said.
Formerly, agencies followed the procedure of contain, isolate and negotiate.
“Now it is to neutralize the threat as quickly as possible while saving as many people as we can,” he said.
Air Academy High School currently has 1,250-plus students.