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Simulated Terror: Gahr High School Scene of ‘Active Shooter’ Exercise


Area law enforcement officials converge on Gahr High School for terrorist training exercise.  Randy Economy Photo

Area law enforcement officials converge on Gahr High School for terrorist training exercise. Randy Economy Photo


Article and Photos By Brian Hews

(Cerritos) It was just a drill, but the flash grenades, smoke, gun fire and television news crews made the scene at Richard Gahr High School in Cerritos on Tuesday feel like a major breaking news story that millions have watched being played out far too often in recent years on school campuses across the United States.

On Tuesday, hundreds of law enforcement officials, civilians, residents, community safety volunteers, business leaders, members of the clergy and students converged on the campus to conduct what Cerritos Sheriff Captain Keith Sweenson referred to as a “real possible scenario that we hope we never have to be actually handle but need to be prepared to deal with.”

28-IMG_5382During the past two months Sweenson and other top brass at the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station along with counterparts at the Norwalk, Lakewood and Pico Rivera Sheriff’s Station every possible detail of the complex exercise.

“We are always coming up with different training elements to help our Deputies deal with a real life threats,” Sweenson said.  The new Cerritos captain is a former graduate of Gahr High School and said that Tuesday was one of his first time back on the campus in years.

02-IMG_5413The campus was covered in yellow crime scene tape, and participants involved as “actors” in the “mass shooting” began arriving on the campus before sunrise at the campus that is located on Artesia Boulevard and Gridley Road.

With heavily armed deputies staged near the Rants Stadium, at least two dozen Gahr students went through a gruesome transformation with a Hollywood style makeup session with professional artists from Disneyland covered the spring breakers with head gashes, bullet wounds, broken bones and lacerations from head to toe.

03-IMG_5440Lieutenant Jeff Deedrick with the Cerritos Sheriff’s Station had members of the media gather around a patrol unit to listen the actual call that was transmitted through the dispatch center at exactly 10:07 a.m.

“Gun shots reported at Richard Gahr High School, at 11110 Artesia Boulevard in Cerritos, all units respond,” a female dispatcher could be heard coming from the patrol car in the parking lot. “Guns going off at Gahr High School near the cafeteria.  Additional gun shots heard inside the girl’s locker room,” the dispatcher continued.

Within minutes, several officers hit the campus with guns drawn while students could be heard screaming at the quad area.

IMG_5524Heavily armed “terrorists” were roaming the campus firing at will and the student actors began dropping on the ground.  A Sheriff’s Air Patrol Unit was also circling the scene and several ambulances and fire engines began staging along Artesia Boulevard within seven to nine minutes into the drill.

At least 100 rounds of ammunition was fired off during the early stages of the drill and the sounds bellowed in the air and could be heard throughout Cerritos, Norwalk, Artesia, Bellflower and parts of Lakewood.

IMG_5698Deetrick said that the residents in the immediate area were told in advance about the exercise and about the gunfire that would ensue. “We did lots of advance work and planning and warning to the local community, we haven’t had any 911 calls go into the Cerritos Station within the first phase of the operation,” Deetrick told reporters.

Pastor Bill Hundley, along with Pastor James Yu and other members of the Clergy also participated at the scene to help provide “moral and spiritual guidance” for the portrayed victims, others.  Hundley who is a fixture of the community and a longtime administrator of the ABC Unified School District said “, others.  Hundley who is a fixture of the community and a longtime administrator of the ABC Unified School District said “you always think about ‘what if’ in a situation like this, but as a Pastor you always need to be prepared to deal with the masses if a calamity were to ever happen at one of our campuses.”

05-IMG_5465In total, more than 15 to 20 students were “injured” in the drill, as well as a few members of the Sheriff’s Department.  All of the “victims” were taken to a triage set up in the student parking lot and several with loaded on “flat boards” and placed in ambulances.

Samantha Gelfand, 17, played a student who suffered a massive “head gash” and had half of her face covered in a made up blood. “This is amazing, what a rush, and what a real scary situation to be placed into,” Gelfand told Los Cerritos Community Newspaper while she lay next to a planter inside the quad area.

IMG_5781Alina Siwa, 17, said that she wanted to participate in the “Active Shooter” simulation as soon as she was asked by an instructor at Gahr. “I am very open minded and very alert about the world around us.  I hope something like this never actually happens here in Cerritos like this, but young people need to be seeing this to believe it,” Siwa commented.

Another student, Jason Puizalaw, 17, and a senior at Gahr said “I wouldn’t have a clue on what to do if this happened in real life.  Cerritos is a safe city.  I feel safe here each and every day.” Senior class member Chelsea Chauvarria, 18, was more direct with her thoughts about playing a wounded student.  “Unless this is real, no one would understand the magnitude that a tragedy like this can make on a person’s life. I was really scared today. I have never even heard a real gun being fired before today.”

Ironically, during the exact time of the drill, the a National Rifle Association-funded task force unveiled the details of its “National School Shield Program.”  In the NRA’s proposal was a package that claims would “protect schools from violence by arming school staff.”