BEDFORD — Residents may have seen some commotion at Bedford High School and Ross A. Lurgio Middle School on Monday, but it was just a training exercise to catch someone with a gun on campus.
Bedford police and about 35 members of the New Boston, Goffstown, Manchester, Merrimack, Londonderry, Hillsborough County and New Hampshire State Police departments were armed with orange or blue rubber rifles as they strategically converged on the school campus. The goal was to stop a shooter from harming students and staff.
"It's important that we train all our police officers to neutralize the threat and prevent an armed individual that has or is attempting to use deadly force," said John Bryfonksi . Bedford police chief. "The key is immediate response and immediate deployment by either an individual officer or officers working as a team. The first action is to identify, localize and neutralize the threat."
The exercise was the last of three training sessions that began about two years ago, including training of all officers, followed by annual training conducted by the department's tactical instructor on local and state maneuvers, a table top exercise and a full-scale mock active shooter event.
"The high school is the most challenging scenario because of the size and the number of occupants," said Bryfonski. "After Sandy Hook, the Bedford Police Department began a school safety check program. It heightens our visibility, and affords our officers the opportunity to learn the layout of the schools. Now, all our officers are very familiar with every one of our schools."
If this was a real shooting incident, the school would go into lock down and communication would become key to protecting lives.
"Once police are involved, they handle the criminal activity and we follow their lead," said Superintendent-elect Chip McGee. "We would communicate with parents and tell them as much as we can as soon as we can, and get the kids and families back together as soon as possible."
Fire Chief Scott Wiggin handled the mass casualty incident command unit as some of his staff stood ready near the schools to rescue the victims – about 20 Drama Club students and school staffers who acted as players.
In the scenario, Harrison Lanuza, 18, and his sister, Claire, 16, were in the main office when the incident began. His condition was serious with a gunshot wound to the head. She had moderate cuts and bruises, and was able to call for help.
"I feel our school is very safe but there's always that fear that it could happen," said Claire.
Students take part in routine lock-down drills and are told to shelter in place. However, in a real incident students could react to get out of danger.
"It depends on where you are at the school," said Harrison. "If I was near the exit, I'd try to get out of the school. If not, I'd stay out of vision as much as possible."
Bedford Lt. Michael Bernard said more training allows police to be better prepared to handle an actual active shooter.
"It could happen anywhere, the mall, a big box store, an office or a home," Bernard said.
Goffstown police Lt. Keith Chauvette said he and other members of the department have taken part in smaller scale exercises involving active shooters, including training within a town building.
"You have to train for it just in case. We'll have something, probably the beginning of the next school year, for teachers to give them an idea of what the response would be. It's beneficial for them to see how things are done," said Chauvette.