Preparedness & Recovery

Community College Shooting Drill Prompts 911 Call: 'He Moves Like a Ninja'

From a different building on campus, a woman called 911 to say she saw Collins evacuating rapidly, people were telling students to run fast, and someone waved to her and said to call.

by Hannah Leone, The Daily Southtown, Tinley Park, Ill. / April 18, 2017
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(TNS) - When a woman in the northwest suburbs got a text from an unknown number about an active shooter at a library, she called 911.

Neither the woman nor the dispatcher seemed to recognize Todd Library, but the woman looked it up and found it about 40 miles away at Waubonsee Community College in Sugar Grove, Ill., according to recordings of the 911 call obtained by the Beacon-News through a Freedom of Information Act Request.

On April 4 — the second day of a three-day emergency training course on Waubonsee's campus — a classroom exercise called for an instructor to text a phone number as part of a simulation, Waubonsee spokeswoman Amanda Geist said. But the text instead went to a private citizen in Rolling Meadows, triggering a 15-minute false alarm and resources from more than a dozen departments, Geist said.

As the dispatcher, and ultimately 18 emergency response agencies, scrambled to figure out what was going on and to ensure the Sugar Grove campus was safe, participants in the training session, apparently oblivious to the chaos, carried on with their active shooter simulation.

In her 911 call, the Rolling Meadows woman read most of the initial text: "This is Laura from the Todd Library. The shooter is in here. He just shot six students. Send some help. I'm afraid to call… He is in military fatigues. He's still in here. Help me."

The dispatcher tried Sugar Grove police, who transferred her to Tri-Com.

A dispatcher called the number that sent the text.

"Hi this is the 911 center, did you send a text message about a situation going on at Waubonsee?" the dispatcher began.

"I really can't talk too much but the shooter was in here," the texter, identified as Laura, the head librarian,said. "He shot six students. I think he's still here."

When the dispatcher asked for the shooter's description, the texter said Caucasian, about 5 feet 8 inches tall and 475 pounds "or so."

"How many?" the dispatcher asked. "One hundred seventy-five pounds?"

"Four hundred seventy-five pounds," the texter corrected. "He's a big guy."

"Four hundred and seventy-five pounds, correct?" the dispatcher repeated.

"Yeah he – he moves like a ninja," the texter said. "I don't understand how he moves like that."

Two other calls were apparently made on campus from bystanders who were not part of the drill.

"We spoke to campus police so I don't know if they've contacted you guys at all," said one caller, from Collins Hall. "There's people upstairs with guns, we've been told."

From a different building on campus, a woman called 911 to say she saw Collins evacuating rapidly, people were telling students to run fast, and someone waved to her and said to call.

A Kane County supervisor on the initial response believed it was possible the report of an active shooter was not legitimate in part because more people didn't call to report it, Kane County Sheriff's spokesman Lt. Patrick Gengler said. But the sheriff's office didn't adjust its response until Waubonsee confirmed it was a "classroom exercise," he said.

For about 15 minutes, police swept the building that houses the library and two adjacent buildings, and employees enacted safety plans, Geist said.

Responders from 16 police or sheriff's agencies and two fire districts were dispatched to the college, Geist said. Kane County sheriff's deputies were dispatched at 3:50 p.m. and learned by 4:06 p.m. the threat was not real, Gengler said.

Gengler said the situation could have been avoided with communication. No law enforcement officers were notified beforehand that a group would be conducting an exercise, he said.

The Illinois Law Enforcement Training and Standards Board Executive Institute helped organize the training, a "multihazard emergency planning institution training" that included an element on active shooters, with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, institute program manager Eric Arnold said. It was funded by a grant, and FEMA-certified instructors are required to teach the course, he said.

Institute officials did not contact local law enforcement, and Arnold said that's not their responsibility.

"It is the role of the on-site folks and the hosting organization to notify those local authorities," he said.

The agency is reviewing what happened and will make recommendations to FEMA to prevent similar situations from occurring in the future, he said.

FEMA spokesman Mark Peterson said the training involved agency-accredited instructors and FEMA curriculum, but the agency did not organize the event. If the agency were to host a training, officials would "work with the host" to notify local law enforcement, he said.

Geist said Waubonsee didn't notify local law enforcement because the school provided the space but did not arrange the class. When Waubonsee hosted other emergency preparedness sessions for its staff, officials notified area authorities, she said.

Beacon-News reporter Sarah Frieshtat contributed.

hleone@tribpub.com

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