Police / Fire

Active-shooter drill at Premiere Cinemas tests first responders’ training

City, county and national agencies, along with volunteers, test their training during active-shooter drill at Hollister movie theater

More than 30 volunteers and several government agencies came together at Premiere Cinemas on 641 McCray St., on Thursday, Nov. 17, to conduct an active-shooter drill. The scenario of the drill was that a disgruntled employee went on a shooting rampage, killing and wounding several patrons, and then committed suicide as law enforcement personnel made their way through the darkened theater.

Hollister Police Department Captain Carlos Reynoso said the scenario involved first responders answering the call that an active shooter was inside the theater. He said that when the officers arrived at the theater parking lot they were be advised that they were responding to a drill.

“They know something is happening, but they don’t know the details,” Reynoso said. “That’s part of the training. The deputies and officers have received the training, and this is a way to implement it, to show what they’ve learned.”

The drill began at 10 a.m., with a 9-1-1 dispatch that a shooting had occurred.

“They will say it’s a drill because there are people who listened to police radios and might freak out,” Reynoso said. “We have signs all around here because we don’t want to traumatize people by thinking this is really happening.”

Within minutes after the dispatcher announcing the incident, the first officer, Carlos Rodriguez, who is the active-shooter training officer for HPD, arrived and was immediately disarmed of any real weapons for safety purposes. He and the other officers would also be searched to ensure they were not carrying any other types of “live” weapons. Then they were given training weapons to use during the drill.

“The drill will allow us to see if there are any deficiencies in our training and the officers can see that they’re adequately trained and they responded correctly,” Reynoso said. “Since Columbine (High School shooting in 1999, when 15 were killed), there have been some tactical changes. In active-shooter situations, in the past, officers were told to wait for backup or a SWAT team. Now they’re trained that if one officer shows up and there’s shooting going on, they go in by themselves to neutralize the shooter.”

Taking part in the drill were members of the Offices of Emergency Services for San Benito County (OES), which was in charge overall, along with the San Benito County Sheriff’s Department, the Hollister Police Department, Hollister Fire Department, AMR Ambulance Service, CERT volunteers, the American Red Cross, a Life Flight air ambulance from Stanford, and the FBI. Reynoso also said there were 20 or more “actors” playing victims inside the theater. Each would have simulated injuries, mostly gunshot wounds.

“This is not just for law enforcement, it’s also for our firefighters, and Cal STAR is supposed to flying in, too, because, realistically, the helicopter would come to take the injured away,” he said. “We’re planning for it to land. That’s why we have the roads closed.”

Kris Mangano, with OES, was coordinator for the drill, and described how the drill unfolded inside the theater.

“An employee (Kevin O’Neill, also with OES) decides he’s unhappy working here and he starts shooting in the movie theater,” she said. “He will kill himself, but they (first responders) don’t know that yet. He also kills a few others and the majority are injured.”

She said planning for the drill has been going on for five months.

“It’s a big process for us to get all the agencies,” she said. “The FBI is here from Monterey and the air ambulance is staging at the Hollister Airport, so they can be here in about three minutes.”

Hollister Police Chief David Westrick said his officers train constantly for active-shooter situations.

“This is something that tests our operational readiness to respond to something like this,” he said. “I expect our officers to respond like they train. This kind of training is great and it also defines any deficiencies or holes in our training.”

Westrick said the department trains in many different scenarios, including at area schools and the airport.

“We try to mix it up to be as real-life based as possible,” he said.

San Benito County Sheriff Darren Thompson said the drill being conducted in Hollister was just one of many taking place on the same day throughout California. As the drill was getting underway, he said one important aspect of the preparation was to let residents know what was going on.

“We wanted to make sure that anybody arriving would know that this is a training scenario, and not something that was actually occurring,” he said. “We didn’t want any accidents where people, such as an officer from outside the area, arriving might believe this was unfolding today in a real-life situation.”

Thompson confirmed that in addition to switching out their weapons, each officer was searched.

“We want to take every precaution to make sure that no live event happens,” he said.

After the deputies and officers arrived and switched out their weapons, they were told (because the gunshots could not be heard outside the theater) that shots had been fired inside. They lined up and went into the building, not knowing what to expect.

A few minutes later, several individuals rushed out. Some wore makeup showing they had been injured. The officers continued to search the theater where they discovered two “deceased” individuals, as well as the dead shooter. As they continued to search for more victims, as well as possible explosive devices, a small drone aircraft hovered over the seats, assisting them.

Finding no more victims, the officers came back out into the lobby to continue their search, where they found two more victims huddling behind the concession stand. They finally determined that there was no longer any danger inside.

Outside, EMS personnel attended to the wounded in a triage set up in the parking lot. Two individuals with simulated gunshot wounds were brought out and attended to before being “transported” by helicopter to the hospital.

The air ambulance landed on McCray Street to simulate transporting the wounded, as the drill came to an end.

Reynoso said OES would analyze the drill and produce a report for all agencies to let them know how they performed and what might be improved.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]