Alhambra police crowded the doors of a boys' restroom at Alhambra High School, patrolling the nearby library and classroom doors. A volunteer, acting as a school shooter, had just run into the restroom moments before.
The officers were participating in a simulated emergency training program the police department and Alhambra Unified School District's Gateway to Success conducted Friday at the school. Police and fire departments as well as school administrators, faculty, and staff were given three simulated emergencies that would all potentially result in a school lockdown: an attempted suicide by a student, an active shooter on campus, and a suspicious package left in the quad. Police and school staff practiced responding to the emergencies as if they were real.
“The threats to schools are more critical,” said Dr. Laurel Bear, director of Gateway to Success. “We hope that everyone can get the training and expertise necessary to always be on their feet and alert for these kinds of situations."
Student volunteer Nykisha Reynolds acted as a suicidal young woman, standing on a stairwell holding a plastic gun and shouting that no one cared about her. She grew impatient with what she felt was a slow response by Alhambra police, saying that there were moments when school administrators, who were trying to prevent her from committing suicide, stopped communicating with her and even got her name wrong, calling her Leticia instead of Nykisha.
“I was getting irritated,” Reynolds said.
Lieutenant Jennifer Wiese, who led discussions between administrators and police officers at the end of each simulation, said it was important for staff to give clear instructions to police and to maintain a strong connection with the troubled person. She also emphasized the importance of students and faculty keeping doors closed during a shootout. Officers have their own set of keys for all classrooms and teachers should not be fooled by shooters who pretend to be there to rescue them.
Student safety is a priority for Alhambra Unified staff and the city's response teams, according to Bear. "Preventing these tragedies is a goal of law enforcement, schools, and society as a whole," Bear wrote in December 2012 letter to school staff and parents after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., left 26 dead. "When an incident at a school does occur, it is our mutual goal to rapidly, safely, and efficiently resolve it."