County conducts shooter training

Sandoval County Sheriff’s deputies work with other local law enforcement members to clear each room at the Jemez Valley High School during an active shooter drill last week.
(Stephen Montoya/Rio Rancho Observer)

JEMEZ SPRINGS — Two people lie still in the entry way at Jemez Valley High School as county agencies try to locate two active shooters in the building.

Fortunately, this scenario was just an active-shooter drill conducted by the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office in conjunction with several surrounding law enforcement agencies.

SCSO began the drill at 10:30 a.m. Thursday in front of the school. Two deputies were chosen to enter the school dressed in civilian clothing, which included a backpack and a plastic rifle, to pose as shooters.

The plan was to let two deputies enter the school and move randomly through the building, simulating scenarios that have made national headlines.

After the deputies were in place, a radio call was sent out, saying a shooting had taken place at the school, to test county first responder’s response times and tactics.

Two students pretend to be dead on the floor of the entry way to the Jemez Valley High School as part of an active shooter drill.
(Stephen Montoya/Rio Rancho Observer0

Sandoval County spokeswoman Melissa Perez told the media that dispatchers were left unaware of the drill to test how efficient they could relay the information in a crisis.

Lt. John Castañeda with the sheriff’s office said it took a few months of planning and preparation to make this drill possible.

“This was basically an assessment of both the school and Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office,” Castañeda said. “Unfortunately, we moved passed just doing fire drills; now we are living in a time when we have to see reality as it is and do these active-shooter drills.”

He said it is important for law enforcement agencies to know the ins and outs of institutions like school buildings.

“This is where our school resource officers come into play, so we can have these floor plans and know how to get around in certain situations,” Castañeda said. “Every school has certain passes and certain key cards to get into certain areas and those in turn can hold us up.”

Susan Wilkinson Davis, superintendent of Jemez Valley School District, said this type of drill is something schools have to do now in order to keep everyone safe.

“This is the very first time we’ve done a drill of this magnitude with law enforcement and that heightens the anxiety,” Wilkinson Davis said.

During the drill, deputies picked high school students at random to scream for help, act injured and play dead.

“It doesn’t get any more real-world than that,” Wilkinson Davis said. “None of us knew where the shooter was going, who was going to be picked for each scenario…this was pretty real.”

A Sandoval County Sheriff’s deputy approaches an active-shooter scenario at the Jemez Valley High School on Wednesday. This drill was the biggest active-shooter training the county has ever conducted.
(Stephen Montoya/Rio Rancho Observer)

She said most schools have been built to be welcoming and open to the public, but because of recent events, many of those schools are starting to realize they have weak spots when it comes to an active shooter.

“Safety is the bottom line,” she said. “So we will continue this type of drill to make sure we are prepared for what many consider the unthinkable.”

Wilkinson Davis said Jemez Valley High is in a spot where response time could make it a vulnerable target.

“At top speed, the response time of the sheriff’s office might be 30 to 40 minutes, and in that way, we might feel vulnerable,” she said. “However, we do have law enforcement in Jemez Springs in Jemez Pueblo and San Ysidro. So we do have resources to respond, but the lead agency would probably be the sheriff’s department.”

The hard part of doing drill like this, she said, is no two situations are the same.

“You can’t say to a faculty member or a student, ‘Do a certain thing and it will work every time.’ Instead we just hope it makes them more aware,” Wilkinson Davis said.

Castañeda said the parents of each student were provided with multiple calls informing them that the drill would be taking place Wednesday.

“We tried our best to make sure those who needed to be informed about this drill were aware of it beforehand,” she said.

Perez said approximately 35 students from Jemez Valley High participated in the scenario. The sheriff’s office went through every aspect of an active-shooter drill except reunification or medical transport of victims, she said.

“In the end, the Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office made some recommendations on how the school could further strengthen their active-threat response plan,” she said in an email. “But ultimately, the school did a fantastic job.”

Support agencies joining the exercise were: Sandoval County Fire Department and Emergency Management, Pueblo of Jemez Emergency Management, Sandoval County Regional Emergency Communications Center and Pueblo of Jemez Fire Department.