At about 9:00 a.m. on Thursday morning, the principal of the Jewett Middle Academy in Winter Haven, Florida announced over the PA system that the school was on lock-down. As students and teachers huddled in their classrooms, terrified, they heard voices and footsteps in the hall with no idea what was happening and thinking the worst.
“We actually thought that someone was going to come in there and kill us,” said seventh-grade student Lauren Marionneaux.
She said that two officers burst into her classroom with guns drawn, one carrying what police later identified as an AR-15 rifle. Lauren was terrified and texted her mother, Stacy Ray telling her what was happening.
“I’m panicking because I’m thinking that it’s a legitimate shooter is coming, that something bad is happening at the school,” Ray told reporters, adding that she also received texts from her other children, one saying, “I thought he was going to shoot me.”
Only the principal and police had any foreknowledge of the drill, a training exercise for officers for reacting to an active shooter in a school. The decision was defended by Police Chief, Charlie Bird and school spokesman Jason Geary as the only effective way to test the preparedness of police for such a situation.
“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.”
Ray does not agree:
“It’s very scary, especially from a parent’s perspective. You hear all this horrible stuff on the news and you think it might be happening at your child’s school.”
Bird was adamant that the way the drill was conducted is the only way to do it properly and that none of the children or teachers were ever in any danger.
TV station FOX 13 in Tampa Bay contacted neighboring school districts who did not agree with officials at Jewett and Bird. Spokespersons for the Hillsborough and Pasco County school districts said that this sort of drill is conducted in empty buildings, usually during the summer or over holiday breaks.
The Polk County School district which includes Jewett released a statement to explain the drill which read in part:
“Parents, students and staff are typically not notified about lockdown drills. For example, we do not give advanced notice of fire drills in order to evaluate how safety procedures work…The safety of our students is of the utmost importance. We continually evaluate and improve our safety procedures. Drills are an important component of our preparedness… We regret any concern that parents and students might have experienced in how the drill was conducted.”
Watch a report from Fox 13 below.