Nearly six months after Capital Gazette shooting, volunteers turn out for active shooter drill in Annapolis

The Baltimore Sun

Gary Mathis held out his arm Thursday as a member of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department painted the left side of his chest with thick, red makeup to give him the appearance of having a gunshot wound.

The fake blood and gel sat atop a scar he already had from his previous experience as a firefighter. Mathis wasn’t phased by the wound and snapped a photo to send to his wife.

He had seen graphic injuries before on the job and remarked how the makeup reminded him of a woman he once helped who had been shot by a sniper.

“Honestly that’s why I’m here,” he said from the staging room of a large-scale active shooter drill in Annapolis. “I wanted to see how I’d respond and what I’d do when I’m on the victim side.”

Mathis and dozens of volunteers came out to the J. Albert Adams Academy to partake in one of the city’s largest active shooter drills in recent memory, according to officials behind the exercise. Many of the volunteers cited the June 28 shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom as their reason for taking part.

For more than three hours, multiple local, county and state emergency service and law enforcement agencies tested their ability to respond in a potentially chaotic setting. The exercise included a faux active shooter inside a school building full of volunteer victims.

Some of the volunteers wore fake blood and wounds, called “moulage,” and barricaded themselves in rooms while the pops of pretend gunfire rang through the halls.

“To have real people screaming for help makes a difference,” said David Mandell, the city deputy director of emergency management. “To have a realistic situation like this is the best training you can do because of the relationships that are developed.”

The drill is the second phase of a four-part training series that begin the spring, said Kevin Simmons, city director of emergency management.

Police and fire officials, along with Simmons’ department, completed the first phase of the training — a smaller drill in a vacant library — one week prior to the June shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis.

Simmons believes that training made a difference in their ability to respond to the newsroom shooting, which left five people dead and two injured. Alleged shooter Jarrod W. Ramos, 38, of Laurel, is awaiting trial scheduled for June 3.

The Capital Gazette shooting was in the back of Krista Wallach’s mind when she signed up to be one of about 50 pretend bystanders and victims during the drill.

“It happened in our backyard, so it’s important to be prepared,” Wallach said. “I think so many volunteers are here today because of what happened.”

Some volunteers complimented one another on a mock bloodied finger or took selfies of their fake head wounds before boarding trolleys that took them to the site of the exercise.

“Have fun,” Simmons said to the volunteers before they headed to the drill site.

Still, the casual jokes and light laughter quickly subsided as people were organized into three separate groups that would soon be barricaded in separate rooms while police cleared hallways and practiced tactical strategies.

Officials gave each volunteer a card bearing a stop sign and the words “Help. Real Emergency.” If a volunteer became too uncomfortable in the heat of the drill, a wave of the card gave them an opportunity for the exercised to be paused and to step outside.

Jonathan Hutson volunteered to be a part of the moulage group, which wore theatrical makeup simulating gunshot wounds. Personnel from the county fire department red goop above his right eye, creating the appearance of a round bullet hole. A trail of red curved down the side of his nose and around his eye.

Hutson held his phone up and snapped a selfie to send to his 10-year-old son, who he said had requested an image. However, the photo would not be going on social media out of respect for friends who might feel triggered by the image, Hutson said.

Hutson is a strategic communications consultant who occasionally offers his services pro bono to the families of those who were in a mass shooting.

“It is visceral and emotional knowing that many of my close friends have lost loved ones in mass shootings across America,” he said.

The shooting at the Capital Gazette newsroom hit close to home, volunteer Debra Goodwin said, gripping the card that allowed her to stop the exercise.

“Between the sounds and the moulage, it makes it seem real,” Goodwin said. “It’s nice to have a safety net because I don’t know how I’m going to respond.”

During the drill, police officers carried simulation guns and ammunition. Members of Anne Arundel County’s Department of Social Services practiced setting up a family reunification center at the nearby Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Public information officers staged a mock news conference to disseminate details about the active shooter.

Cameras were set up in hallways to capture the entire drill. In the coming weeks, law enforcement officials will review the footage and then discuss whether improvements can be made, Simmons said.

“Every time we have a full-scale demonstration, we grow it,” he said.

The third and fourth phases of training are scheduled for spring and fall in 2019, respectively, Simmons said.

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