(The following scenario is not real and was conducted as a training exercise in Bracken County on Saturday.)
MILFORD – A mock bus hostage situation held on Saturday helped to prepare first responders and students for emergency situations.
At 9:15 a.m. on Saturday morning, emergency tones dropped signaling for several first responders to report to a dead end road in the Milford area in response to a man with a gun holding a bus full of students hostage.
The scenario was of a man, portrayed by Augusta resident Jimmy Kisakden, who had lost custody of his son three days prior and was holding the bus hostage until his son left with him, according to Bracken County Schools Superintendent Jeff Aulick.
As soon as the tones dropped, Aulick signaled to the kids to begin the scenario. All the students on board yelled for someone to come on to the bus and help them.
“He has a gun,” and “please help us” could be heard coming from the students.
It took 23 minutes for the sheriff’s department to respond to the scene. They parked vehicles several feet from the bus and called out to the man, asking him to stand down.
“Sir, what is your name?” one of the officers called out. “Let us help you.”
Several minutes into the standoff, a gunshot could be heard on the bus, before the man stepped off. As the doors opened, the man stepped off the bus and another gun shot rang out. He fell to the ground and police immediately moved in while students on the bus yelled that someone had been shot.
Officers checked on the man and handcuffed him before entering the bus to evacuate the other students.
EMS arrived and assisted police in removing the injured student from the bus to the ambulance, followed by the hostage taker. The ambulance raced to another location several miles down the road, where they met with AirEvac.
The situation ended with the student being place on the AirEvac.
“Today’s situation was a worst-case scenario,” Aulick said. “It was an out of the box training-in a situation where the bus was located in an area where there was really no communication, no radio and no cell phones.”
Bracken County High School Senior Cameron Ashcraft was the student who portrayed the shooting victim.
“I was the one who was shot,” he said. “Once EMS arrived, it went kind of fast. They came on board the bus and helped me off, they put me on a stretcher and in the ambulance. They said that, at the time, they would normally have sedated me so I would be calm. I just had to think about how a person would react if they were shot and I just went with that.”
One student on the bus Isabella Bilcia said she knew the situation was fake, but it still hit her harder than she thought it would.
“We were told what we would be doing on the bus, but when you get in that situation, you just forget everything you were told,” she said. “We were told to lower ourselves as much as we could and keep our heads down so we couldn’t be seen in case he started shooting. We were supposed to scream to make it look real, but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t move and I couldn’t talk. I just started crying.”
Another student, Haley Taylor said she learned a lot from the scenario, but she is unsure what she would do in a real situation.
“It was chaotic,” she said. “But, if it were real, I’d imagine it would be a lot more chaotic. You look around and you see all of your friends crying and screaming. It’s a hard situation to handle. You have to sit there, with the shooter in the bus, and wait for someone to arrive. You don’t know when they’re going to get there or what’s going to happen to you.”
Bracken County Emergency Management Director Neider Reynolds said he felt the scenario went very well.
“I believe it went very well, but we had a few hiccups with communication, though that wasn’t a surprise,” he said. “This started several months ago as a tabletop exercise and we thought it would be a good idea to put it in the real world and see what the response times would be and how it would be handled. We didn’t tell anyone the times the tones would drop, because we wanted them to be wherever they normally would have been, whether it was at their office or at home.”
Reynolds said the tones dropped and the first responders came to the scene, but communication was an issue for those in the area of the bus.
“Truck to dispatch communication wasn’t bad,” he said. “But, anyone communication with one another at the bus scene were cutting in and out. This area is the furthest part of the county that we would have to respond to in an emergency situation. We knew communication wouldn’t be the best, but overall it went rather well.”
According to Reynolds, one of the issues often faced in the county is the lack of manpower.
“We have great equipment, but we can often be short handed,” he said. “That’s a problem a lot of counties face.”
Reynolds said he appreciated the help of everyone involved.
“I truly appreciate our first responders, not only for their help (Saturday) but for what they do for our county everyday,” he said. “Our agencies came together and worked as one team and that’s what we always need.”
Those who participated in the scenario included the Bracken County Sheriff’s Office, Bracken County EMS, Bracken County Search and Rescue, Augusta Fire Department, Pendleton County Search and Rescue, Falmouth Fire Rescue, Pendleton County Community Response Team, Northern Pendleton Fire District, Augusta Police Department, Air Evac and the Bracken County Speech and Drama students.