Oregon shooting prompts on-campus SWAT team training comes to Wheaton

The Wheaton Police SWAT team will conduct a drill on Wheaton’s campus on Monday, Oct. 19, in response to recent mass shootings on college campuses, according to chief of Public Safety Bob Norris.

Wheaton College held a joint training session on Wednesday, Oct. 7, discussing the prevention of on-campus shootings with the Wheaton police department, fire department chief, incident management team and Wheaton College Public Safety. Other training sessions will take place this month.

Campus threats have become a local concern, following a bomb threat last week at the College of DuPage, in Glen Ellyn, three miles away from Wheaton College. Students had to evacuate the buildings following the threat, and the campus was shut down immediately. The school’s interim acting president Joe Collins explained to NBC News that the “police department took the call, (which said) that there were a number of book bags with bombs in them spread around campus that were about to explode.” The school reopened on Tuesday.

In Oregon last week, a mentally disturbed 26-year-old gunman, Chris Harper-Mercer, reignited fears of mass shootings when he took the lives of nine people between the ages of 18 and 76, and ended his own life as well.

According to a mass shooting tracker featured in the Washington Post, the U.S. has not gone more than eight days this year without a mass shooting, defined as the death of four or more people. Some 20,000 Americans have been wounded and 10,000 killed in such incidents. “These numbers only tell the smallest part of the story. And these very numbers will need to be updated again tomorrow. And the day after,” Christopher Ingraham, a reporter for The Washington Post wrote. Harper-Mercer may have been motivated by past shooters, writing on his personal blog that when other mass shooters “spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are.”

Some Christians are concerned about campus shootings because Harper-Mercer reportedly called on Christian students to identify themselves so that he could target them specifically, according to witness Anastasia Boylan. Boylan’s father told CNN that, after Christians identified themselves,  Harper-Mercer said before shooting them, “Good, because you’re a Christian, you’re going to see God in just about one second.”

At Wheaton College, there are a few classrooms, including in the Billy Graham Center, where there are no blinds on the door windows. Students and staff have expressed concern regarding technical issues with the alarm system around the campus. Some people have also encountered anomalies during lockdown procedures due to technical issues. Jim Johnson, director of Wheaton College Facilities Management, said, “We will review the need in order to provide safety. We will install blinds to provide safety.”

Wheaton College is very concerned about people’s safety on campus. Student government president Josh Fort encourages students to share their “suggestions on how the safety of campus can be improved.” Bob Norris said the Wheaton police will respond very quickly if something happens. During an emergency, Public Safety is “on the radio with the Wheaton police (through) Ducomm. We don’t have to call 911 and then have 911 call the police department. We can call directly to the Wheaton police, which is certainly a blessing.”

In case of emergency, students will be notified through Sendwordnow, a system that sends descriptions of the situation to the marquee boards and speakers in classrooms, cell phones and office phones. “The school is in the process of investing in more robust systems, which will be ready around March,” Norris said.

Norris also insisted that if students see something suspicious, they need to contact Public Safety right away. “If it’s 90 degrees outside and you see someone with a heavy coat and a big bag, and they just kind of seem out of place, report immediately! You must observe the behavior, the entire picture. This person does not seem to fit with what everybody else is doing. We need to look out for each other, be aware all the time.”

Norris said that often during shootings, “People just freeze and they don’t do anything.” This puts them in a weak position. He also insisted that people have to either fight or even jump out of a window — if it is not too high — before the potential shooter sees them. Everybody should work together in such situations. Norris reminds students that pepper sprays are legal on campus, and he encourages students and staff to be aware of and ready for any possibility. “As the Scripture teaches, we want to live life with wisdom,” he said. “What makes me nervous is having students and staff walking around the campus thinking that nothing will happen because it’s Wheaton. There might not be much crime happening on campus but things can change quickly. This could happen at anytime. This is why we must know what our options are.”

Norris suggested the three- part strategy of run, hide, fight, during a lockdown.

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