Story & Photos by JaNae Williams
Near-silence filled the room as observers stood by anxiously, the only sounds being gentle murmurs from hushed conversations, the rustling of papers and the soft footfalls of those organizing the drill. Yellow police tape cordoned off the area between spectators and those involved. A palpable tension hung in the air as the anticipation built.
Shortly after 8:30 a.m., yelling and simulated gunfire erupted from just inside the southern entrance of the Student Center as a Midwest City police officer, acting as a civilian gunman, entered a hallway filled with his targets. As the gunman made his way into the building he left behind him a trail of “victims,” played by Rose State students briefed prior to the exercise.
Kailey Kelpine, a sophomore business major, explained that each participant was given a victim card detailing their wounds and degree of injuries. The character she was set to portray was shot in the jaw, the bullet exiting through her right ear, leaving her unresponsive, but breathing. Kelpine added that the situation, though staged, felt real in the moment.
“Whenever he walked in, I didn't actually know that [the gunman] was who was yelling. I reacted how I actually would have in real life and so as soon as he pointed the gun at me … my heart started pounding really hard and it was really scary,” Kelpine said.
From the hallway, the shooter continued his path through the building, firing nearly a dozen rounds, injuring multiple victims, killing one and ultimately taking a hostage before barricading himself into a room on the north end of the Student Center. Almost immediately after the gunman barricaded himself into the room, the first wave of Midwest City Police entered in response to calls from dispatch regarding an active shooter.
Maj. Robert Cornelison of the Midwest City Police Department explained that there is a partnership and contract in place between Rose State and MWCPD, meaning there is an officer living in student housing and therefore on site at all times. Furthermore, during the school week, additional officers are on campus, allowing for very rapid response times in the case of an emergency situation.
Cornelison added that training scenarios like these are a part of regular bimonthly training for MWCPD and their SWAT team, providing valuable insights to the department, and that when they can specifically involve the campus there is also a lot of benefit to the student body, faculty and staff.
“It could happen anywhere. It’s going to happen again, it’s just a matter of where and so I think everybody is more prepared,” Cornelison said. “They’re more alert. They kind of know what to look for; they have an idea of how the police is going to respond.”
Watching on as the drill took place were a those tasked with overseeing the safety of the Rose State Campus, as well as the men and women who protect it. Elsewhere, the entire campus was placed on lockdown and building-by-building checks were being carried out to ensure compliance to Rose State’s protocols.
Dr. Jeanie Webb, President of Rose State, explained that the school goes through scenarios like the active shooter drill so that the campus is as secure as possible.
“We want to have real-life scenarios, because it’s different. But you know, the truth is [when] it happens, if something happened on any campus, any school, any department; it doesn’t matter where it is, people never react how they think they will and that’s why you want to have these practices,” Webb said.
Webb explained that this is the beginning of a series of trainings that will take place to ensure that faculty and staff are prepared for multiple possible scenarios. Rose State intends to work with each one of its departments to ensure that training is as up-to-date as possible.
“I think that we need training one hundred percent of the time, constantly, because it changes. With every incident we learn something,” Webb added.
Caleb Watkins, a sophomore general science major, participated in the drill and was given the task of being the only fatality. For Watkins, getting to be a part of the drill was an eye-opening experience.
“I always knew that [response times] were fairly fast from just hearing about it, but I’ve never actually experienced anything like it,” Watkins said. “It was pretty amazing to see how fast they all got on campus.”
Rose State uses a notification system to inform students of campus issues. This same system would be employed in the case of an active shooter, inclement weather or any other potential crisis the campus may face. Many of the student participants in the drill remarked that their phones were active during the experience and they received numerous communications from the college.
“Despite that I was [playing the role of] a casualty, my phone was going crazy with alerts and text messages, so I think that in any crisis … I would have been well-informed with the Rose alert system,” Watkins said.
Webb is aware that there will always be more to do, but thinks that through making preparedness a priority and with continued training in conjunction with local agencies, Rose State will do its part to ensure the safety of everyone who sets foot on the campus.
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