MUNSTER | Screams, punctuated by gunshots, hung in the air along with gray clouds of acrid gun powder.
Running down the hallways with guns drawn, a team of two law enforcement officers passed bodies and panicked civilians dashing in the opposite direction.
Jumping over a victim’s body, they entered through an open doorway to find a hostage pleading for his life as a man pointed a gun at his head.
With only milliseconds to react, one or both of the police officers fired at the shooter, dropping him where he stood.
“End ex. End ex. End ex,” shouted the instructor to end the exercise.
It’s all part of the federally sponsored Law Enforcement Active Shooter Emergency Response training program hosted this week by the Munster Police Department at Munster High School during spring break for Northwest Indiana law enforcement as well as businesses, universities and agencies with police forces.
Taught by former and current members of the U.S. military special forces, the “training the trainers” program is one of the courses offered by the National Center for Biomedical Research and Training Academy of Counter-Terrorist Education through Louisiana State University. It is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and FEMA.
The 34 law enforcement representatives from throughout the area who participated in the program will offer this training now to fellow officers in their departments. Volunteers, including members of the Police Explorers program, served as victims, hostages and active shooters.
Part of the three-day training was in the classroom while Wednesday’s exercises were live drills.
The officers were divided into teams of two and each pair went through three increasingly difficult scenarios involving perpetrators, hostages, fatally injured victims and barriers, including steel doors and chains across the doors.
“That’s what happened at Virginia Tech. Chains were put across the doors,” said Munster Police Chief Steve Scheckel, as he observed the training.
The scenarios depicted in the training have become far too familiar in schools, workplaces and shopping centers, said Scheckel said, who is also commander of District 1 Law Enforcement Strike Team.
“We booked the training last fall before the Newtown, Conn., shootings for this spring break at Munster High School. Since Newtown, you can’t book this program for years. We’re very fortunate to have this, and the Munster schools were very accommodating to let us use this building,” he said.
Last year the program was given in about 30 places throughout the United States.
“We’ve gotten more sign-ups because of Newtown,” said one of the instructors who chose not to be named.
Lead instructor Kit Cessna said the training is “as realistic as we can make it.” The 9 mm bullets were simulated munitions that are composed of a light blue projectile that travels 300 feet per second and a brass cartridge that ejects as the round is fired.
Instructors ran alongside the trainees, giving them instructions, especially if one or both hesitated before entering the room.
“Every shot is a dead man,” one instructor shouted as the team stopped for less than two seconds.
Following the first exercise, Cessna told the participants, “You’re well above average. Just stop fighting for the doorway and do better closing the distance between you and the shooter. Remember there may be more than one bad guy.”
“That was awesome!” said Lemont Sanders, Indiana Gaming Commission officer, after finishing the second drill with his partner, Lake County sheriff’s police Detective Nikolaos Zairis.