Summary: School staff burst in on a teacher's meeting and shoot blanks at everyone to "test their reactions."
HALFWAY -- Two masked men wearing hoodies and wielding handguns burst into the Pine Eagle Charter School in this tiny rural community on Friday. Students were at home for an in-service day, so the gunmen headed into a meeting room full of teachers and opened fire.
Someone figured out in a few seconds that the bullets were not drawing blood because they were blanks and the exercise was a drill, designed to test Pine Eagle's preparation for an assault by "active shooters" who were, in reality, members of the school staff. But those few seconds left everybody plenty scared.
Principal Cammie DeCastro said it became clear very quickly just how many of the school's 15 teachers would have survived. The answer: "Not many," she said.
Elementary teacher Morgan Gover, 31, said only two teachers would have lived to tell the tale. She admitted being scared, and also acknowledged she would have been among the casualties, having taken several fake direct hits from the shooters.
"I'll tell you, the whole situation was horrible," she said. "I got a couple in the front and a couple in the back."
The surprised staff had received training from the Union County Sheriff's Office on active shooter scenarios. They had been told they had some options, such as not rushing out of their classrooms when gunfire erupted, and locking and barricading their doors.
They weren't expecting a drill like this, and they were caught by surprise when the two men entered and began firing.
"There was some commotion," DeCastro said.
The goal of the drill was to learn how people would react, so better emergency plans could be made, she said.
It was a wake-up for many of the teachers.
"It was shocking," said elementary teacher Dollie Beck, 54.
Surprisingly, the drill made Beck aware that she would not have recognized the sounds of gunfire. "I would have blown it off as kids' sounds in the hall," she said.
The drill has since prompted her to keep her classroom door locked and to think of windows as escape routes, she said. But the biggest insight for her was the reminder that she is in charge of the youngsters in her classroom, and would have to remain calm in an emergency.
"Emotion begets emotion," she said.
Gover said before the drill, she was comfortable she had a plan to deal with such a situation. What she learned was, her plan wasn't much good. "It heightened my awareness about what's around me," she said.
Halfway, population 288, is the eastern Oregon ranching town that became world-famous 13 years ago as the globe's first "Internet city." The city council changed Halfway's name to Half.com in return for $73,000 from a Philadelphia-based Internet bazaar of the same name that sold books, CDs, movies and the like on-line at half price.
The town got its old name back a year later when the on-line bazaar was sold to eBay. Now Halfway is back in the real world, where people sometimes enter schools and open fire.
DeCastro has heard some criticisms of the drill from townsfolk, but is convinced it was valuable. "For us not to know how we were going to respond is leaving us open," she said.
Beck and Gover agree.
"I'm in charge of a pile of kids," said Gover. "It made me analyze as a teacher what my role is for these babies."
The district's Safety Committee and the School Board now will critically evaluate policies and procedures and decide what to do next, said DeCastro.
Armed teachers is one possible outcome, she said. Or the district may get armed and trained volunteers from the community to watch over the school in shifts, she said. Tougher doors and better locks are other options.
Gover said the teachers tend to favor having one or two armed teachers in the building at all times.
"We are so remote," Gover said, "we are going to have to take care of ourselves."
But thinking about active shooter scenarios is hard, she said.
"We are tender-hearted people who give hugs all day. We don't think like that."
Aside from how stupid the whole thing was, the quotes from the teachers are pretty scary.
Nothing like giving elementary school teachers PTSD for no good reason.