No one was hurt in the incident because the incident wasn’t real.
Law enforcement trainers are using the old Eastbrook — emptied in 2012 and replaced by the new Eastbrook Middle — to run “active shooter” simulations to train officers, said Lt. Phillip Herren with the Whitfield Sheriff’s Office.
The objective? “Find the shooter and stop him,” Herren said.
That’s exactly what several trainees did on Tuesday, rushing a classroom in the back of Eastbrook and “firing” on the pretend shooter — played by Whitfield Officer Shawn Giles — before he had a chance to “kill” his fake hostages.
“The definition of an active shooter ... is an individual actively engaging in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area,” Herren said. “The Sandy Hook shooting (in Connecticut) kind of brought it back to the public’s view — one of the things you’ll see in every article about an active shooting ... people say, ‘We never thought it would happen here in a hometown where everyone knows everyone.’ That’s not the case. No one thought someone would blow up a lawyer’s office in Dalton, but it’s been done.”
Law enforcement officials said Lloyd Cantrell ignited an explosive device at a local law firm in 2008, killing himself and injuring four others. It’s the possibility of future acts of violence similar to that 2008 bombing that Herren said he wants officers prepared for.
“Running these things — it teaches a good bit,” Herren said of the training. “The object is to show (trainees) how stressful these things really are. ... Officers have a lot of things going on in their head. With someone shooting at them, it just triples the stress ... and they have to learn to overcome that and get that under control.”
Several officers at the training said the simulation was “realistic,” with firecrackers used as sound effects, real smoke pouring through the hallways and plastic caps — which can hurt and leave large welts, but don’t kill — as live ammo in the guns used by the shooter and the officers.
“A lot of training is classroom training — just sitting and listening,” Herren said. “You learn so much more by doing things. With the smoke, firecrackers — it gets their heart going ... when you add all that in, it just brings it home; in the real world.”
“These kinds of trainings let officers know what they need to do — what to eliminate, what not to eliminate — and what they need to do once they get to the bad guy ... training is the only way (to learn how to manage stress). You put yourself under it and you learn how to manage it should there be an unlikely event like this.”
And if it does happen? The sooner police arrive the better, Herren said.
“Throughout the country, law enforcement agencies are training like this,” he said. “We’re training on active shooters ... be it at a workplace, a school, a church, a mall, downtown ... because statistically speaking, the sooner you get an armed officer on the scene the quicker the situation is resolved ... either by arrest, a suicide, officer-involved shooting or if they flee.”
Which makes the old Eastbrook a “great training place,” Herren said, because it’s an actual real-world location and not built just for training.
“I wish we could keep the building, but I don’t think it’s feasible,” he added.
The building is set to be demolished later this year, according to Whitfield County Schools officials.