By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
The Tucumcari Police Department, public schools, fire department and EMS participated Tuesday in an active shooting scenario drill staged at Tucumcari Elementary School.
The simulated shooting scenario was coordinated by members of Albuquerque-based JL Consulting LLC, to train first responders under conditions they might encounter in a real-world active shooting situation.
“We have been providing this type of training to law enforcement agencies and school districts across the country,” said James Leach, president of JL Consulting.
In the scenario, staff and students of the Tucumcari Public Schools were taken hostage by a gunman who was upset his grandson had been bullied and expelled from the school. The hostage-taker was portrayed by John Hinze, in a role much different from the one in which most residents know him.
He is the senior pastor at the First Baptist Church in Tucumcari.
As the hostage taker in the drill, Hinze entered the administration office and demanded to speak to the principal, Rebecca Hodges. He first encountered administrative assistant Kim Garcia, however, and shot her in the leg.
Hinze then found Hodges and walked down a hallway where he encountered and shot a janitor before entering a classroom filled with students. In the classroom, he demanded to know the identity of the two boys who were bullying his grandson.
Hodges, however, had triggered a panic alarm before Hinze removed her from her office, and a second office assistant dialed 911 to report the situation.
When police arrived, they found Garcia, called for emergency medical personnel to treat and move her to safety. They cleared the office and advanced through the hallway checking open doors for potential suspects or hiding children.
Officers found the injured janitor, cleared him from the hallway and learned from the janitor that the gunman was in a classroom with students and the principal.
The officers located the classroom and identified the gunman and positions of the hostages. The officers then announced their presence and began a dialogue with the gunman. During the talks fireworks were set off to simulate the gunmanπs warning shots.
During the dialogue, Hinze struck Hodges and the teacher was shot in the arm, but officers continued to negotiate for the release of the students and injured teacher.
Hinze allowed the injured teacher and several students to leave the classroom. They were escorted out by an officer and evaluated by emergency medical personnel and transported by ambulance to Dan C. Trigg Memorial Hospital. Emergency room personnel participating in the scenario simulated treatment of the injured.
Ultimately Hinze turned the gun on himself ending the hostage situation, though officers were still actively clearing the room, securing the weapons and searching for additional suspects and injured individuals.
“We are proud of how our staff conducted themselves in this scenario,” said Aaron McKinney, superintendent.
Leach said there were no live rounds of ammunition used during the scenario and all injuries and shooting victims had been prepped prior to the scenario’s start. He said the active scenario provides law enforcement and school personnel with training beyond classroom studies by simulating an actual situation to adapt to and learn from.
Leach said the scenario shows each emergency response organization areas of strength and thoses that need work. He said the speed of the scenario is slowed down to help those involved learn what steps to take. In real situations, the pace is much faster and emotions run higher in life-and-death situations.
Leach, a former emergency manager for the city and county of Santa Fe, said he started the consulting firm to provide agencies with actual experience in the emergency management field to bridge the gap between new and experienced personnel in the field.
Leach said he had been working with Tucumcari Emergency Manager Scot Jaynes for the past two years to get a scenario in Tucumcari approved by the state.
He said that these scenarios take weeks of planning and must have a qualified active shooter advisor present.
McKinney said, “This is something we hope never happens but that we must prepare for as administration and staff of the school.”
He said with all the incidents that have occurred across the nation it is no longer a matter of if it will happen in New Mexico but when.
“Overall I feel that the officers did a great job responding and reacting in this scenario,” said Jason Braziel, chief of police.
Braziel said drill communication between officers and dispatch were impaired due to a real-life active search during the drill for a man armed with a gun. The search involved both city and New Mexico State Police officers near Tucumcari.
Leach said it was unfortunate that other agencies that could have benefited from the scenario were unable to attend because of the real-life search.
Brenda Rivale, director of EMS services said she was pleased with how her staff performed during the scenario. Rivale said the medical staff inquired about vital information from the patients and officers to provide the best care possible. She said the scenario helps to prepare the staff for different types of situations that they will encounter.
Braziel said the police department will work on developing further protocols and guidelines that will be used during emergency situations. He said the scenario helped the department to identify complications that they can work to resolve.
“This was an invaluable learning experience,” Braziel said. “One which we can and have learned from and will better helps us to be prepared to handle situations likes this should and when they arise.”