911 logs flesh out timeline for response to shooting at New Hanover High School

Once the scene was deemed safe, EMS was on site treating the victim in a classroom for wounds to the leg and hand
Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 7:04 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - Monday’s shooting at New Hanover High School was the kind of situation law enforcement plans and trains for, but hopes will never become a reality.

A 15-year-old was taken into custody and charged with attempted murder after he allegedly pulled out a gun and shot another juvenile after a fight in the school’s catwalk. The victim’s injuries were not life threatening, and they are expected to make a full recovery.

While there was no loss of life, the sounds of gunshots in the school building, the sight of students and staff running and hiding in closets and being evacuated by heavily armed officers in tactical gear won’t soon be forgotten.

Investigators were hesitant to provide a full rundown of what happened, but the 911 records help build out a timeline of the chaotic afternoon.

Requests for 911 calls revealed three different people dialed 911 at 11:24 a.m. to reports shots fired at New Hanover High School; however, the call that kicked off the multi-agency response went out from a school resource officer’s radio.

“They were initially notified by school officials of some kind of disturbance on the catwalk, they respond to that and located the victim and they immediately begin rendering first aid to the victim,” explained Lt. Christopher Smith of the New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office.

Lt. Smith says a command post was set up seconds after the SRO radioed for backup, even before the first units arrived at the school.

According to the 911 logs, at 11:27 a.m., within three minutes of the 911 calls, law enforcement had Market Street blocked off to traffic.

Records show investigators had a possible suspect name at 11:29 a.m., and the first units entered the school at 11:31 a.m.

Once the scene was deemed safe, EMS was on site treating the victim in a classroom at 11:38 a.m. for wounds to the leg and hand. The victim was being loaded into an ambulance to be transported to the hospital five minutes later.

It’s a response made possible because of what Lt. Smith calls “rapid deployment training.”

In North Carolina, officers with every police department, sheriff’s deputies, and troopers with the highway patrol all go through the same training, in case they’re called to an active shooter scene or other major emergency. New Hanover County’s SROs receive even more rigorous training for solo active shooter deployment and undergo annual drills.

They’re all taught to seek out the threat before they move into the next phase — evacuating students to a safer location.

By noon, students were had flooded city sidewalks as they were moved to Williston Middle School. Parents were told they could pick up their child at the MLK center after a headcount. The evacuation phase happened well before law enforcement had a shooter in handcuffs at 2:11 p.m.

“We’re not going to initiate an evacuation until we have the information that it safe to do so there on scene. So as far as whether that depends on if someone’s in custody or not, that may not be the case. What we’re looking for is the best information that we have on scene, that there is no longer a threat there at the school, nor is there a threat to where we are moving the students,” said Lt. Smith. “We need to get them to an offsite location because number one it’s a crime scene — the school itself is a crime scene. Number two, you want to get them away from the crime scene so you can do the reunification there instead of having parents flock to the school where law enforcement is still active.”

Once the school was clear and all the students were accounted for, leaders moved into the final phase of their crisis plan: reunification of the students with their families. It’s a phase deputies admit could have been smoother.

“It is chaotic and it’s one where we’re not gonna make everybody happy, but we’re doing what we feel is best for the students and those that are involved,” explained Lt. Smith.

In total, it took four-and-a-half hours for the multi-agency response to clear the scene. While the command post was taken down around 4:07 p.m., the work wasn’t exactly over.

Deputies say the debriefs and meetings continued through Tuesday to discuss how things went and fine-tune their plans should an event like this ever happen again.

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