The Community Baptist Church was the scene of the FCSO's active assailant training Aug. 8.
In a training scenario for local deputies on Aug. 8, people were running, yelling, crying, smeared with fake blood. But deputies' task was to ignore them and instead focus on finding, and stopping, the mock "shooter" making his way through the Community Baptist Church in Bunnell.
The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office held the event, an active assailant response training session, for school resource deputies and new hires on Thursday, Aug. 8, to prepare deputies for the possibility of an active shooter in a school or another public space.
The training scenario involved a single FCSO responder arriving to an incident involving a lone shooter, and the goal was to eliminate the threat before attending to victims — to avoid being distracted by victims' yelling and pleading before the shooter has been stopped. (Stop the Bleed kits, which include tourniquets and gauze, have been ordered for School Resource Deputies and other law enforcement officers.)
Cpl. Paul DeSousa and Chief Paul Bovino were among the trainers leading the exercise, keeping a close eye on the trainees' steps and actions.
For 20 minutes, as a reporter on assignment, taking photos, I followed deputies as they trained to handle a situation no one wants to face. It was scary: People running at you, screaming, while "gunshots" ring out.
Then Sheriff Rick Staly asked me if I wanted to participate, to play the person responsible for stopping the “shooter” in the next round of training, and it felt like an eternity to get the words out of my mouth: "Yes, why not?"
Deputies handed me a fake gun and taught me how to hold it in about 10 seconds. It was my first time doing so. I was given some brief instruction, and then the trainers told me, "Go."
Teenagers started running toward me, crying. Mock gunshots sounded as I walked through the thin hallway, passing classrooms, lunch bags, backpacks and people lying still on the floor.
“Check your surroundings, ask for directions, and keep on going with your gun pointing forward,” said the trainer behind me.
As I was advancing, people kept begging for help, but I was required to ignore them: The shooter was still out there.
When I made it to the room where the shooter was, I peeked in and saw him. Then I dropped to my knees, pointed the gun at him and "fired." He fell to the floor.
“Secure the space and check for other threats,” the trainer told me.
I started walking backward, still pointing the gun. I looked around to find the deputies and the civilians who were participating in the training.
My hands were shaking, and my heart was racing. It felt too real, and when I got home, 30 minutes later, I was still shaking.
This is not the first time this training has been conducted, Staly said. But it was the first time the FCSO has made it so realistic, with obstacles, gunfire and actors playing victims.
The goal is for deputies to learn to fight tunnel vision and avoid runaway emotions, and be able to use calm, tactical movements.
"The more we practice, the better we will get," a trainer said to deputies.
Trainers told deputies to check themselves for bleeding, or for burning sensations.
"The community should know that we will not have a Parkland incident where a deputy sheriff did not respond," Staly said. "You train for the worst-case scenario, and you pray that you never have to use it."