Active shooter drills are something that people in most countries outside of the United States only ever have to imagine: a terrifying reminder that, at any moment, your lives might be threatened by someone you see every day, and that you need to be ready for it.
See Also: 10 Myths About Guns And Gun Control
But as that fear grows, the ways we prepare for it are becoming extreme. Some states now require active shooter drills to involve live reenactments of school shootings, while a handful forbid them from warning the teachers and kids about what’s going to happen.
In a country that sees a school shooting nearly every week, it’s only reasonable to be prepared — but sometimes, these drills get so extreme that they’re downright traumatic.
10 The School That Shot Its Teachers “Execution-Style”
In Jan. 2019, a group of teachers at a Monticello Elementary School were marched into a room at gunpoint and forced to line up against a wall.
None of them had any clue what was about to happen. They knew the person holding them up was a police officer and that this was just a drill — but they didn’t expect that, in a few seconds, the officer would shoot each one of them in the backs of their heads, “execution-style”.
The officer didn’t use real bullets, of course – they were just shot with plastic pellets. Still, they were big enough to leave bruises, draw blood, and leave the teachers in considerable pain.
“It was hit four times,” one teacher said, after the drill. “It hurt so bad.”
It was terrifying and painful for the people who were shot — but perhaps even worse for those outside, who just heard the screams of their colleagues. Then they watched as the group shuffled out silently, some bleeding, and – under the officers’ orders – refused to say a word about what had happened.
Then the next group would be called in — and they, too, would be lined up and shot.
When the teachers complained, the sheriff’s excuse made it clear that this wasn’t an isolated event. The drill was “normal,” he said; so much so that he “couldn’t say” how many teachers his officers had shot in the past.
9 The Nurse Kidnapped At Gunpoint
A Colorado nursing home employee had no idea that her company had scheduled an active shooting driving when a man barged into the building, held a gun to her head, and forced her into an empty room.
Her company hadn’t told anybody that there was going to be a drill that day — or, at least, nobody in the business. The only people they’d notified were the 9-1-1 operators, who’d been instructed to ignore any calls coming from the building.
And so, the woman locked in an empty room with an armed shooter was more than just a little frightened. She broke into tears and started begging for her life. She was so hysterical with fear that, when the shooter told her he was a cop and it was a drill, she didn’t believe him. She just kept begging and pleading for him to let her live.
When they let her out of the room, nobody apologized. Instead, the man who’d just threatened her life criticized her in front of her colleagues for “not resisting enough”, and then she was ordered to get back to work.
To her credit, she took their advice to heart. The nurse certainly started resisting then — by leaving work, never coming back, and filing a lawsuit.
8 The Schools That Use Real Kids Covered In Fake Blood
In Lincoln County Missouri, active shooter drills don’t stop at fake guns. They bring in fake victims.
In 2014, NBC followed a group of high school students that followed active shooting trainers around from school-to-school, pretending to be their victims, all to “ramp up the realism for the teachers”.
They would cover themselves in fake blood and bullet holes and either lay down on the floor, pretending to be dead, or pound on a teacher’s door, screaming that a gunman was coming to get them and begging them to let them in.
It’s a practice that at least one expert has called “pointless [and] traumatizing” – for both the teachers and the actors alike.
While NBC reporters watched, a teacher struggled with the pain of hearing a young girl outside her door beg for her life and knowing that she wasn’t allowed to let her in. “It made my heart hurt,” the teacher said.
But the actors were every bit as traumatized. One was shaking and crying by the time the activity was over. Another told reporters that she “didn’t even really have to pretend” that she was scared. Instead, she said: “I kept having to remind myself: ‘This isn’t real, this isn’t real.’”
It’s all pretty horrifying – but they’re hardly the only school that does it. In fact, in 2014, Earl Warren Junior High School in Los Angeles sent in the actors during school hours and didn’t even bother telling anyone it was just a drill. They just let the kids panic.
7 The School That Shot Its Teachers With Blanks
In 2013, a Pine Eagle Elementary School teacher named Linda McLean was working alone in her classroom when the door flung open and a man in mask marched in, gun in hand. He raised it to her, pulled the trigger, and said: “You’re dead.”
The man was an actor, and the gun was filled with blanks — but McLean didn’t know that. All that she knew was that, somehow, miraculously, she was still alive, and an armed, masked man was now running into the hallways.
Apparently, he left his gun behind, because McLean says that she debated whether to chase him and gun him down or try to get the children out of the school. When she saw kids in the hallway, though, her preservation instincts kicked in and she began ushering them into hiding places.
Across the school, the other teachers were panicking just as much as she was. One broke her shoulder trying to escape, while another got so frightened that she wet herself.
And once again, when it was over, nobody apologized. Instead, the principal lined up the faculty and handed them each a red dot for each time they’d been “shot”.
6 The Alert Test That Called In A Police Force
In July of 2019, the workers of the AT&T Building received a text message on their phones. There was “ongoing police activity” in the building, it said, and they needed to take shelter to protect their lives.
There wasn’t really any danger. The text was just a test of a building’s alarm system, but whoever sent it forgot to tell anyone it wasn’t real — including the police.
A massive police force soon swarmed the building, and the people broke into a panic. Some barricaded themselves inside conference rooms, while others hid under their desks. One group of about 30 people huddled together in a storage closet.
As they sent what they thought would be their final messages to their loved ones, the police spent an hour going from floor-to-floor, clearing each room and escorting people out of the building.
“When we did come down, there were guns pointed at us,” one worker told the media. “We didn’t know what was going on.”
“It was chaos,” another agreed. “Someone could have had a f——ing heart-attack.”
5 The Nursery That Traumatized A 5-Year-Old
Not every school waits until kids are in high school to start running active shooter drills. At least one preschool in Tucson, Arizona starts training kids when they’re three-years-old.
That story made the news when one child at the nursery started showing signs of PTSD. The Pottinger family says that their five-year-old son, who attends the nursery, started re-enacting active shooter drills at home. He would play by crouching behind the furniture and rehearsing what he’d do if a shooter broke in.
But it wasn’t just fun and games. When the boy heard fireworks go off for the first time, he started crying and screaming: “Active shooter!”
He became so terrified about the idea that somebody might come into his school and murder him that he would refuse to go anywhere alone — even to the bathroom. He’d tell his parents that, if they left him alone for even a second: “The lockdown is going to get me.”
“This is his childhood and it should be carefree,” his mother says. “But it’s not.”
4 The Drill That Caused A City-Wide Panic
In Dec. 2018, phones across Altamonte Springs, Florida, started ringing. Text messages and phone calls were flooding in from the students of Lake Brantley High School who were terrified that this could be their last day alive.
“I heard what sounded like gunshots,” one boy whispered to his grandmother over the phone.
Meanwhile, a mother took to Twitter, begging for help: “Anyone know or hear what’s going on with Lake Brantley HS? School is in code red and my kids are texting me that they’re hiding in closets. I’m freaking out.”
The school was just doing a drill — but nobody there knew it. The only warning the teachers got was a text message that said: “Active shooter reported,” followed by an administrator telling the whole school over the P.A. system: “This is not a drill.”
“He sounded scared,” one student says. “His voice was trembling.”
It was enough to send the school into hysterics. Teachers barricaded their doors and hid their kids in closets, while, in the cafeteria, kids panicked and scrambled for the exits.
And outside of the school, their parents’ phones lit up, filled with messages from children who thought they were about to die.
3 The Army Drill That Brought In A SWAT Team
In Aug. 2018, a soldier at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base injured himself jogging and accidentally set off a chain of events that would end with a SWAT team storming the base.
The injured man called for help and was rushed off to the base’s medical treatment facility, where – unbeknownst to him – the medical team was running a mass casualty drill. He was rolled in alongside a swarm of actors who were just pretending to be injured, and, at least for a while, the doctors just thought he was particularly good at faking it.
When a doctor realized that this patient actually was hurt, he glanced outside the window and saw something terrifying: a swarm of military men running for their lives, with what looked like dead, bleeding bodies laying in the ground by them.
What that doctor didn’t know was that, on the other side of the base, they were running an active shooter drill, complete with actors playing the victims. And so he panicked, and — since the military was already running — put the hospital on lockdown and called the cops.
Soon, an entire SWAT team was on the base. An officer fired five shots into the hospital door and knocked it down, and police officers swarmed with weapons drawn.
It was complete chaos — and it took two hours before anyone realized what was going on and got the cops to give an “all clear”.
2 The State That Left Teachers With $300,000 Worth Of Medical Bills
As crazy all of these stories are, they’re just the ones that get reported. There’s strong evidence that things like this are happening all the time and just not making the news.
An Iowa insurance company stumbled upon some of that evidence when, in 2014, they went through their records and realized that, in the past two years alone, they’d paid out more than $300,000 because of active shooter drills.
Emergency room visits by Iowa school employees injured during active shooter bills, they learned, had cost them $300,000 in less than 24 months. And at least 25 teachers had been injured during these drills — more than one injury a month.
“We have injuries related to running, to tackling, being tackled, running into door jambs, jumping off furniture,” says Jerry Loughry, Corporate Security & Safety Manager at EMC Insurance Companies.
Loughry’s company filed a lawsuit to force the schools to change their approach — but there’s no telling how many of these injuries happen nation-wide. This is just one company in one state that took the time to check their books. The numbers could be just as bad — or even worse — in the rest of the country.
1 The Shooter Drill That Taught Nicholas Cruz How To Kill
As dangerous and troubling as these drills can be, they still might be worth it if they work — but in at least one case, these drills have actually made things worse.
The problem with school shooter training is that, if a school shooting does happen, odds are, it’s going to be somebody in the training session that does it.
That was certainly the case for Nikolas Cruz, who shot up a Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas Highschool in February 2018. He’d participated in his school’s active shooter drills, and he knew that, as soon as gunshots started, people who lock themselves in their classrooms. But he also knew that, when people heard the fire drill, they’d head out and walk outside.
Before he started his massacre, he waited until five minutes before dismissal and pulled the fire alarm. He knew that, if he did that, the fire alarm and the dismissal alarm would all be going off at the same time as the code red, and that a lot of students wouldn’t have any idea what to do.
Cruz killed 17 people. It was one of the worst school shootings in American history.
“There’s no evidence that [live shooter drills] work,” says criminologist James Alan Fox. “It would be just as effective if you just told kids what happens in the case of an active shooter…
“Safety videos on planes don’t involve passengers actually rehearsing an evacuation.”