WATERFORD - The doors and windows at Waterford High School rattled in the wake of loud shotgun blasts Friday morning.
It was only a drill.
But when Beverly Police Officer Ted Offenberger entered the building firing off blank shots, no one - especially the students - treated it like one of the many annual safety drills they have come to know.
Photo by Jasmine Rogers
Students at Waterford High School give feedback and ask questions after a Friday morning active shooter drill at the school.
No one complacently filed out of the building. No one formed easily countable single file lines in the parking lot.
Instead students dropped their backpacks where they stood, rushed outside, barricaded themselves in classrooms and even shimmied out of windows.
"A lot of the kids take this very seriously and they should," said Carrie Roush, an advanced EMT with Beverly-Waterford Rescue.
Roush and three other emergency medical responders were stationed inside during the drill, ensuring no actual injuries occurred and also learning about what their role would be in the event that such an incident truly did transpire.
The drill is designed to teach students to think and react in the face of what feels like a real emergency situation, said Chief Deputy Mark Warden of the Washington County Sheriff's Office. Attitudes toward shooting response have shifted in recent years - from an emphasis on a quick lockdown to the newer method which urges students to escape and even fight back against a shooter.
"What kind of weapons did you find?" Warden asked the students in a question and answer session after the drill.
Students who had barricaded themselves in classrooms were prepared to defend themselves with everything ranging from Mason jars used in science experiments to baseballs.
The realism of the active shooter drills is one of the reasons Waterford High School Principal Randy Shrider sees the exercise as such a valuable learning tool.
"A fire drill, we have the students evacuate and they do a good job, but they don't have any emotional reaction to that," he said.
The students knew to expect the drill sometime Friday. They had undergone training Thursday in preparation. Still, it was shocking to experience, said Waterford freshman Cassidy Cunningham, 14.
"I was right up the steps over top of where he came in and started shooting. I felt my feet vibrate," she said.
Cunningham escaped outside, but not before stopping to help a friend who was pretending to be a shooting victim.
"She just told me to keep on going, so eventually I did," she said.
Freshman Jared Miller was about to walk out of a classroom when the first shot rang out and the teacher pulled him back inside.
"My first thought was 'I've got to make sure people are OK.' When I didn't see the shooter outside, I jumped out the window," he said.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office has been evolving and expanding the active shooter drills since it first conducted one at Warren High School more than a year ago, said Warden.
Waterford had one of the drills last year, but this year Warden added a new component by having the shooter enter the school at a more vulnerable time - when the students were changing classes.
"My thought process is to provide as many scenarios as possible," he said.
There was concern initially that parents or community members would think the drills are too realistic or too traumatic for students.
In fact, the opposite has happened.
"I've had parents call me and say 'Thank you,'" said Warden.
The drills will likely become the norm at area high schools, joining fire and tornado drills as an annual occurrence, with continuously changing scenarios.
"I believe once you start you don't stop," said Warden. "There's going to be a new crop of kids every year. This gives them the tools to carry with them."