Image for representational purposes only.
It was a day like any other at East Side Elementary School in Worland, Wy. — carefree youngsters were playing outside enjoying recess activities, unaware of what was about to happen that could leave a frightening, lifelong impression.
Located in beautiful northwestern Wyoming alongside the Big Horn River, Worland is a city of some 5,500 whose website proudly proclaims: “A great city to raise a family, Worland offers excitement for everyone.” But around 10am on this particular morning, the kind of “excitement” that sent first-through-fifth-grade students screaming, crying, and running in panic was no doubt not the sort of family benefit that Worland officials had hoped to highlight.
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According to the Casper Star-Tribune, a safety drill to prepare the elementary school students on how to react to a threatening stranger in their midst went terribly wrong, at least in the opinion of many terrified students and their angry parents. Though the school’s gym teacher monitoring playground activity apparently knew the incident was just a drill, the unsuspecting kids didn’t. One was so terrified that, according to the newspaper article, she suffered “the scare of her life,” wondering, “Am I going to die?”
Before the panicked students began to congregate in the back of the playground after the gym teacher shouted, “Run, run!” and started to blow his warning whistle, here’s how the drill reportedly developed last week at East Side Elementary:
A man in a hooded sweatshirt with a suspicious backpack appeared in the back of the playground. The hood was pulled over his head.
The school’s gym teacher, Kevin Heyer, approached the man, tapped him on the shoulder and asked his name.
Heyer said the man took off running.
At that point, Heyer…began blowing his whistle. “Run! Run!” he said he shouted to the kids, pointing to the back field, opposite of the supposed intruder.
So, did the school plan and conduct the drill on its own? Reportedly, no. The Star-Tribune article notes that the exercise and lockdown procedure was conducted with the cooperation of local law enforcement. Despite the fear and trauma experienced by the youngsters, the county sheriff told reporters that the drill was a success.
Washakie County Sheriff Steve Rakness, who led the training, told the local newspaper Friday that the training was a success.
“We identified some things we need to work on, but otherwise no problems whatsoever,” the Northern Wyoming Daily News reported Rakness saying. “I think they know what they need to do,” he added.
A number of parents, though, disagreed with the sheriff’s assessment. One parent, Amy Munoz, whose daughter Kaydence told her mom that she thought some kids were yelling that the supposed intruder had a gun, told the paper:
“They took it to an extreme not to discuss this with parents and the community beforehand,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face.”
The school’s principal defended the exercise, noting that parents had been notified in an email that such a drill would be conducted.
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