Winter Haven, Fla. (CBS TAMPA) — Students, teachers and parents were taken by surprise after an “active shooter drill” brought the Winter Haven middle school into lockdown as armed police officers burst into classrooms with their weapons drawn.
Students at Jewett Middle Academy said they were terrified when police officers burst in the doors for a planned active shooter drill – but students and teachers are irked they were not told ahead of time.
Seventh-grader Lauren Marionneaux told WTVT-TV that when the officers burst into her class with an AR-15, she was in fear for her life.
“We actually thought that someone was going to come in there and kill us,” the station quoted her as saying.
But police say they conduct these drills for the absolute safety of the students.
“These types of drills are vital in order to evaluate not only law enforcement response, but more importantly to educate the students and school officials in case an actual event were to occur,” Chief Charlie Bird said in an email to media.
Parents were notified of the drill through email after it was over, but many parents, however, received panicked texts from their children as the drill was going on.
Winter Haven Police Chief Charlie Bird said police are able to evaluate a school’s response.
“It’s very important that, when you do your drill, you do it without everyone knowing that it’s a drill,” Bird said. “How you train and how you prepare is how you’re going to react when everything goes bad.”
“It really is to protect the children and at no point in time would we endanger any of the children,” Bird insisted.
Stacy Ray told WTVT that she received a text from her seventh-grade daughter Lauren Marionneaux after two armed officers burst into her classroom. Winter Haven police told The Post that one of the officers had his duty firearm – a handgun – drawn.
The gun was loaded, as is required. The other officer was carrying an unloaded AR-15. According to Ray, one of her children texted: “I thought he was going to shoot me.”
In a statement The Washington Post, spokesperson Jamie Brown for the Winter Haven police department said they were only aware of one student who texted a parent during the exercise.
“Unfortunately, no one gets an advanced notice of real life emergencies,” Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Gearey said in an e-mailed statement to The Washington Post. “We don’t want students to be scared, but we need them to be safe.”
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