Local News

Aurora theater massacre reinforces training for active shooter situations

SPOKANE, Wash. - While local law enforcement officers say it's almost impossible to prevent a tragedy like what happened in Aurora, Colorado from happening this from happening they say they can be ready if or when it does.

The Spokane County Sheriff's Office is designated as the lead agency if something like what happened in Colorado Friday were ever to happen in the Inland Northwest.

The department trains on a regular basis for the active shooter scenario, which means the first officer or deputy that arrives on a shooting scene is responsible for finding the threat and eliminating it.. If that's not possible they then contain the threat while other law enforcement officers arrive on scene.

Active Shooter training

Spokane's last active shooter scenario happened just last month when Charles Wallace shot two deputies and then led law enforcement on a high speed chase that ended with Wallace crashing the stolen car he was driving and committed suicide.

"We are actively deconstructing that entire event and we will put it all back together and as we do we will identify each and every place that there was a weakness throughout the system and reference that system," Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said.

That's just one way the sheriff's office keeps up to date on all their training, but it was after the tragic shooting at columbine high school in Colorado that the active shooter training started.

"Spokane County has been a lead agency in developing active shooter response protocols and we've trained that over the last 11 years," Knezovich said.

Now once again a tragedy out of Colorado has the department looking back.

"Where are we on our training? How long has it been since we've taken that one out and walked through it again," Knezovich said.

Basically active shooter calls for immediate action from the first agency on the scene instead of waiting for back-up or the SWAT team, as in years past.

"We go in to eliminate that threat and that starts with the first responding officers," the sheriff said.

If a multiple casualty situation were to arise, first responders would be backed up by emergency management officials, organizing medical transport and hospital rooms and if needed calling for more help.

"We look at local, federal, state as well as volunteer organizations and our local critical infrastructure," Lisa Jameson with the Department of Emergency Management said.

That means everyone who could be affected by a situation like the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado is involved in training.

"By the hospitals being actively involved in the planning process, or public health, that's where we are going to get that information on a real time basis," Jameson said.

While the sheriff's office analyzes local as well as international incidents its the ones closes to home that put things in perspective.

"So, we've had the example of that and that's why we train this on a regular basis," Sheriff Knezovich said, adding that once this incident in Colorado is over and done with it should provide yet another training tool for his agency, albeit one that carries a very grim reminder that you train for the worst and hope for the best.

The shooting at the Century Theater in Aurora happened less than 20 miles away from the scene of another massacre that Sheriff Knezovich's deputies have been training to repeat of: Columbine.

"It brings back a lot of memories of Columbine," Ben Oakley said.

Oakley was a sophomore at Columbine High School in 1999 when two classmates -- Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold -- brought an arsenal of guns and homemade bombs to school, killing 13 classmates and teachers before committing suicide.

He knows firsthand what the Aurora community is going through right now.

"They're going to be nervous anytime they ... well some of them may never see another movie again. It will impact their life," he said.

But he knows it doesn't have to hurt them.

"With friends of mine from Columbine, some of them are doing well today and it's because they talked about it ... sought counseling. You know they live a free life now because they don't have to have it all bottled up," he said.

In Oakley's case, he found support in State Representative Kevin Parker, who worked for a student mentorship program at Columbine and was at the school the day of the shootings.

"He walked me through this whole process," Oakley said.

Rep. Parker was in the cafeteria of Columbine where a teacher was shot and killed. He also knows what victims of the massacre in Aurora are feeling.

"They're going through a lot of chaos, uncertainty ... a lot of shock … and not just the families, but the whole communities," he said.

"I know that for me, after Columbine, when I'm in a movie theater in particular, I am very cognizant of where the exits are just in case anything happens," Parker said.

"They're going to be nervous anytime they ... well some of them may never see another movie again. It will impact their life," Oakley said, adding that moving forward for many victims will be a challenge.

"It will be a long process, to deal with something so tragic with such a loss of life and so many injuries," he said.

By talking through their fears over what happened eventually it will help the victims of the Aurora movie theater shootings silence their personal nightmares of what the y saw and what they experienced.

"It's dealing with it. Not bearing it down … to expose fear is how you'll get rid of it, really."