Edgewood Middle School Principal JoElla Hauselman (R) makes a point Wednesday to other Warsaw Community Schools personnel and local law enforcement during the active shooter symposium at Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Edgewood Middle School Principal JoElla Hauselman (R) makes a point Wednesday to other Warsaw Community Schools personnel and local law enforcement during the active shooter symposium at Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
WINONA LAKE - It’s an example of a scenario that no community wants to face, but one that every community in America is trying to be prepared for.

A few days before homecoming, students and staff are preparing for a rally for a sports team. Decorations are being put up in the auditorium, and the band is practicing outside. A student notifies a teacher that another student has posted disturbing messages on social media about wanting to hurt students and teachers at the school.

Two hours later, an unidentified individual enters the school and opens fire in a classroom on the first floor. Bystanders begin fleeing from the building and disperse in all directions. Students and staff in other classrooms turn off lights and barricade doors. The gunman proceeds to the second floor and the sound of popping noises and screaming continues.

Over 100 Kosciusko County first responders and school officials considered that scenario Wednesday during the active shooter symposium at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center on the campus of Grace College in Winona Lake. The scenario was broken down into parts, so that with each part, the breakout groups had to answer questions regarding policies in place, how quickly would it be reported and to whom, actions to take, priorities, resource gaps, on-scene security, public information and more.

School corporations represented included Warsaw, Wawasee, Tippecanoe Valley, Whitko and Triton. Law enforcement included every department from Silver Lake, Winona Lake and Mentone to Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Office, Warsaw Police Department and the Indiana State Police. Even the county’s fire departments - Warsaw, North Webster, Burket, Syracuse, etc. - had representatives on hand to better prepare themselves in the event of an active shooter in the county.

The symposium originally was planned for about two years ago, but the COVID pandemic delayed any large gathering. It was organized by KCSO deputy Doug Light, Emergency Management Director Ed Rock and Warsaw Community Schools Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education David Robertson.

In his opening remarks for the active shooter tabletop exercise, Light said, “As we were putting this together, as it got closer and closer to the date, I thought long and hard about what I was going to say to convince everybody to show up. What can I say to all of you that’s seen it all and done it all, that have trained, that have been trained by the best. You guys are the best. What was I going to say? Then, May 24, 2022, happened and I realized I shouldn’t have to say anything. That all of you should know why you are here today.”

For anyone who didn’t know, Light said he was talking about the active shooter in Uvalde, Texas. Two staff members and 19 children were killed, with 16 wounded, by an 18-year-old.

“That’s why we’re here today,” Light said. “We’re here to get better. We have to be better. This is what all of this is about.”

From January to May of this year, he pointed out that there have been 19 active killer events in schools across America, with 29 people killed and 33 wounded.

“And that’s just until May of this year. We have to be prepared,” Light said, adding that they’re trying to build a base to handle active shooter incidents and that everybody knows “these situations are fluid.” What may be put down on paper may go by the wayside in a real active shooter incident.

Wednesday’s symposium was “baby steps to us later in the year, hopefully, having a mock drill. A full, live-scale mock drill,” he said. “So, we’re here to create the uniform response to that, that killer event, in Kosciusko County. That’s the why. That’s why we’re here.”

Rock told everyone, “You’re only going to get out of this what we put into it, and the idea is if we have an active shooter anywhere in Kosciusko County, everybody here is going to be involved in one way or another, whether it’s locking down your own school; whether it’s responding to it; or trying to recover from it. We’re all going to be involved with it in one way or another.”

Resources to deal with an active shooter will be pulled from all over Kosciusko County and beyond, Rock continued. “We only have control of what happens in our county. So ... we need something consistent. Every school now - most of them are the same but they have different versions on how they think the response is going to happen. And it’s critical that we get everybody on the same page because we can’t train the entire county to do three or four different plans. You’ve got to have one consistent operation so that everybody knows that when they show up, they don’t have to be trained, they know what’s going to happen from that point forward.”

After each of the four breakout sessions Wednesday, which lasted 30-60 minutes each, representatives of each group were asked to explain what their discussion was.

“The intent here is to make sure that everybody understands here is where we are and here is what we thought about that we had not thought about before,” Rock said.

The tabletop exercise started out at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Rock said it was adjusted so they could have “good discussion” as it moved along. The purpose of the exercise, he said, was to “provide the opportunity to examine the initial actions of the response and the recovery of an active shooter incident.”

Giving the guidelines for the exercise, Rock stated the discussion was open and low stress and no fingers were being pointed at anyone.

“I don’t care how you’ve done it in the past. If you’re not willing to look at this and say, ‘This can be improved,’ if you come in here with the mindset that ‘we’ve got everything perfect and we’re not going to change,’ then this is probably not going to be productive to you,” Rock said.

He encouraged everyone to voice their opinions.

“The exercise is plausible. And I think Doug pretty well hammered that home that this is a realistic thing that we need to be considering. We’re not here to discuss the pros and cons of gun control, of arming teachers. This has nothing to do with the mitigation of the problem in that we need to stop it - we all agree with that. We’re not here to discuss how to stop it, we’re here to discuss how we’re going to respond to it, what are our actions,” Rock stated.

He said there was no hidden agenda other than the fact that “we need to be consistent and I don’t think that’s hidden.”