Students, teachers wait in dark as school fires blanks in lockdown drill
CARY – About 9 a.m. Wednesday, Cary-Grove High School junior Mike Harris was in his chorus class when his teacher locked the door and barricaded the room.
Harris and his classmates sat calmly against the wall in the dark, and heard what sounded like a muffled crack.
It was the first of two blanks fired from a track starter pistol in the hallway.
Cary-Grove High School was in the midst of a "code red" lockdown drill used to prepare students in case there was someone shooting in the school.
As part of the drill, school officials fired the blanks so students could know the sound of a gun being fired.
Harris said he wasn't scared.
"There's a difference between hearing a sound and someone running toward you with a weapon," Harris said.
However, he thought the drill was a good idea.
"It's a shame ... that this has become more of a common occurrence in schools."
Shortly after 9 a.m., Principal Jay Sargeant made an announcement that the school was in a “code red” lockdown drill.
During the drill, school officials and Cary police officers went around the building making sure classrooms were locked. School personnel even knocked on the doors and asked the teachers to open up, which they were supposed to ignore, said Jeff Puma, District 155 spokesman.
Sargeant then read a second announcement and stated that the starter pistols would be fired. Two school deans, in different wings of the school, each fired one blank around 9:10 a.m.
Some parents complained that shooting off blanks so students became familiar with the sound of gunfire went too far. Puma said absences as a result of the drill were minimal.
The district has done lockdown drills for several years with teachers, but this is the first year with students, Puma said.
After the 10- to 15-minute drill ended, teachers and students talked about the experience and discussed how students would react in different scenarios, such as if they were in the hallway or the computer lab, Puma said.
Cary Police Chief Steve Casstevens said the drill was important in preparing the students for an actual emergency.
“It went in an incredibly orderly fashion,” Casstevens said. “That's what we hope for. That's why we practice.”
“I suppose it's a sad commentary on society that we have to run drills like this,” he added. “But the reality is we have to run drills like this. This is the real world. We can't stick our head in the sand. We need to prepare for when real things happen.”
Kate Liautaud, a junior, was in her gym class during the third-period drill. She sat in the locker room on the floor in the dark but never heard the shots.
Liautaud, who has been hunting before, said she didn't think the drill was useful.
"I didn't really understand the purpose of it at all. For those who have heard a gunshot, it's not really comparable to firing blanks ... in a hallway," Liautaud said. "I think for those who haven't heard a gunshot, for this drill to be the purpose of that was completely unnecessary."
Speaking outside the school after Wednesday's dismissal bell, junior Nicole Swoboda said she didn't have any problems with the drill.
"I think it's better that they did it, so if it does happen, we're fine, and we know what to do," Swoboda said.
District 155 Superintendent Johnnie Thomas also was at Cary-Grove on Wednesday to observe the exercise.
“I think ultimately it's our responsibility to make sure that all of our students are safe and can respond under pressure,” Thomas said. “We need to make sure they have the ability to respond in an appropriate manner. I think this goes a long way in doing that.”