Bangs echoed in the halls of Waccamaw High School Tuesday as armed officers walked in a line toward the sound of gunfire.
One man hollered for help, another ran toward the officers. Spent shell casings fell to the ground as the shooter emerged from a bathroom where police took him down.
The scene was part of a choreographed active school shooter training held by the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgetown County School District.
Alan Walters, director of safety and risk management for Georgetown County schools, said the training is one piece of a series of efforts to beef up security in the school.
The district spent about $1 million over the summer on security improvements, Walters said.
The money was spent on surveillance camera upgrades and changes to some school entrances, including Waccamaw High School. Visitors entering Waccamaw High this year will be guided into the front office by a partition in the main entrance. All other doors will be locked. Once in the office, visitors will be asked to present their driver’s license, which will be scanned and checked against the national sex offender registry.
“We want to be careful about who we let into the building,” Walters said.
The active shooter training was part of two, two-day instructional exercises led by the State Law Enforcement Division with members of the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office, the Georgetown Police Department, Pawleys Island Police Department and school officials. It was the first of its kind in Georgetown County, Walters said.
Walters said to his knowledge there have not been any school shooting incidents in Georgetown County. Bomb threats have plagued schools over the last couple of years in neighboring Horry County, where there also have been some shootings in school.
In September 2010, then-15-year-old Socastee student Christian Helms shot at school resource officer Erik Karney. Karney was not hit by a bullet, but received minor injuries. The teen, who also had two pipe bombs, was tried as an adult and sentenced to six years in prison.
A year earlier, also in Horry County, Trevor Varinecz, a student at Carolina Forest High School, was fatally shot by school resource officer Marcus Rhodes on Oct. 16, 2009.
The 16-year-old Varinecz stabbed Rhodes seven times with a bayonet, causing superficial injuries. Rhodes tried to wrest the weapon away before shooting his weapon.
Walters said the school district in Geogetown County hopes a proactive approach and making sure officers have hands-on training will prevent such incidents.
“It’s very important,” he said of the training. “You can sit in the classroom and talk about it, but until you get hands-on and crawl on the ground and get the adrenaline going, it’s not the same.”
Georgetown County Sheriff Lane Cribb also hopes the training is something his deputies never need to use.
“You train for the worst but are always hopeful for the best when it comes to our children,” he said.
The training on Tuesday continued outside where officers practiced approaching a shooter, played by a SLED agent, in the school parking lot filled partially with various police cruisers.
Walters said the goal of the money spent and the training is to help improve the quality of education in Georgetown County.
“Teachers can’t do their jobs and kids can’t learn if they’re distracted worrying about their safety,” he said. “It’s an investment in the quality of our education. If you’re scared [as a parent] to let your kids come to school, that’s a problem.”
People in Georgetown County also can submit tips for things such as bomb threats through an app on a cellphone or through the district’s website, which Walters said he hopes students will properly utilize.
“I’ve got two teenagers and they use their phones for everything but talking,” he said.
The tips can be sent anonymously, but there is a space to leave contact information.
Walters said he expects someone to try to test the tip system in the first few weeks of school, but issued a warning for anyone who abuses the system.
“If they do, they’ve broken the law,” he said. “It’s not a toy and consequences will be swift and harsh for anybody that files a false police report.”