Already scattered around the building were people simulating the injured and dead, complete with gruesome makeup and rubber wounds. They lay on the floor and leaned against walls. Several gallons of fake blood were ladled onto the floor to make the effect more realistic.
Immediately after the whistle, the sound of gunshots exploded from the second floor and smoke started drifting down the stairs, becoming so thick it was impossible to see up the stairs to the next landing.
Crystal Roberts and Kimberly Speer, nursing students at JSU, were two of the “victims.”
“We were screamers,” Roberts said.
The two were in a bathroom when the gunshots started. They immediately started calling 911 to report the incident, they said.
“The line was busy several times and then they called my phone back,” Roberts said.
The dispatcher told them to stay in the room and wait for police, Speer said.
“We just sat back and tried to listen,” Speer said. “We heard the screams and tried to grasp where the shooter or whomever may be.”
At 9:36 a.m. Jacksonville police started arriving. The first officer parked his car near the front of the building, jumped out the door and ran in a partial crouch along the building toward the back. Inside, screaming people called for help and a few burst out the front door, screaming. One minute later, city fire trucks arrived and pulled around the corner of the building.
A few minutes after the call, a police officer came by and yelled in the bathroom where Roberts and Speer were waiting, “Is the shooter in there?” the girls said. They answered, “No.” He told them to turn off the lights and lock the door.
At 9:41 a.m. Rebecca Turner, JSU’s provost, who was standing in a corner of the entry hall observing the event, received a text-message alert that there was an emergency. Had classes been in session, that alert would have gone out all over campus and building managers would have started locking down buildings, said Patty Hobbs, director of public relations for the university.
“That works because students have signed up with their cell phone number in the emergency system,” Hobbs said. “If they didn’t get [the alert], they’re not registered in the system.”
Outside the building the university police blocked off the street.
Screams erupted from the building as “victims” slowly wandered or ran out of the building. As one woman walked out of a side door looking unsure of where to go, a university policeman flagged her down yelling, “Come to me.” As she walked toward him, he ushered her away from the building toward the barricade on the road and asked if there was anything she could tell him.
Even as the drama at Wallace Hall developed, the university and emergency personnel analyzed the response.
Keith Roberts, Cleburne County Emergency Medical Services director, was one of the evaluators observing the scene.
“I want to make sure that everyone is tagged properly, carried out to a safe area properly, treated and transported properly to the hospital,” Roberts said.
He was one of several evaluators on the scene, each observing responders in their own specialty and recording what they saw and heard. After the emergency, the responders will be interviewed about their choices, Roberts said. All that information will be sifted through and the departments will use it to decide whether they need to modify or create policies and procedures to follow.
“They’ll be the ones to decide if this was right or wrong,” Roberts said. “The information gleaned out of here today, it will take six months or a year before we come to an end with it.”
Hobbs said the university was already discussing how to improve its response if some sort of an emergency were to happen on campus.
“They’re making preparations for family, friends, clergy, counseling, places to hold that, bus transportation, all the kind of things that we would need to know if this were really real,” Hobbs said. “This exercise is already paying off. We know a lot of things that we need to take care of.”
Star staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545.