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Preparing for tragedy: Sandusky Mall becomes training ground

Melissa Topey • Nov 13, 2013 at 9:03 AM

It was a training exercise.

It happened in a rapid pace, with multiple participants and was intense.

But it wasn’t an active crime scene at the Sandusky Mall on Nov. 3; it was a four-part training exercise.

I was right smack in the middle. Perkins Township police officers and firefighters put me there — with them — on the response team for a simulated active shooter scenario.

The training occurred early that morning, before the mall opened. I slid an M-4 long gun over my bullet-resistant chest plate, with Perkins officers Joe Bauman, Ed Kellum and Pete Gale at my side. We waited until the call crackled over the police radio: “We have a disturbance at the mall, and a moment later the police scanner exploded.

“Multiple 911 calls. Shots fired,” dispatch said.

I ran with my team down the mall’s main concourse, toward the sound of gunfire. The intensity of it pumped my adreniline — it was exciting — but only because I knew I would not be killed.

I held my M-4 at the high-ready and rapidly swept the area with the officers.

Shoppers, played by students from EHOVE Career Center’s Criminal Justice program, were running and screaming and mostly didn’t notice us.

It was chaos, but the officers remained calm, methodical. They were able to listen to the dispatch, and to one another. I couldn’t, even though assistant police Chief Robb Parthemore told me before we started he wanted me to pay close attention to the dispatchers on the police scanner.

I got tunnel vision, looking for a shooter and trying to listen to the officers with me.

Officer Gale and I moved with our guns drawn, turning at the mall concourse that leads to the Ruby Tuesday restaurant. Halfway down we found a shooter, and Gale took him into custody.

I could hear command instructions but couldn’t understand the orders being barked loudly as a following group of officers took control of our shooter and we continued to move forward in the mall. I staged at a corner and was told to watch across the hall toward the Game Stop store.

“What are you trying to do, get yourself killed?” Greg Bodkin, an instructor in EHOVE’s Criminal Justice program asked me as he approached. “You are too exposed. Use the wall to shield yourself.”

I moved back behind the wall and peered out from around the corner. A second shooter, our active killer, was found in a service hall next to Game Stop.

The whole scenario lasted 17 minutes and ended with five shooting victims, two of whom were dead.

Treating the wounded

The next phase was triage. I picked up a first aid kit and ran to meet up with Perkins Fire Department paramedics Bryan Brace and Brad Baer. A paramedic’s goal is to quickly assess someone’s medical trauma and get help to the most severely injured victims first, they said.

Escorted by officers, we passed a person who was dead to make our way to two other victims; one a gunshot victim, the other a person having chest pain and a hard time breathing.

We grabbed them both and quickly took them to the safe zone established earlier in the mall, where they could be treated.

Every Perkins first responder participated in all four scenarios. I ran behind the officers in the first exercise to see what they did before participating in next two. I sat the last one out as I was coughing and my heart was pounding. I ran that mall three times, and that was all I had.

Some of the other first responders were sweating, too, but they remained on task.

The recent Family Dollar store shooting in Willard was on my mind as a tried to catch my breath. It brought the training close to home; the reality that makes a training exercise like this necessary. News reports the very next evening of a mall shooting in Paramis, N.J., brought me back to those same troubling thoughts.

It is an unfortunate reality that an active shooting could happen at our local mall, but Perkins Township first responders will be ready if it does.

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