When mass shootings happen elsewhere, they really hit home, said Amherst police Lt. Dan Makruski.
“We can’t just chalk it up as, ‘Oh it’s another shooting,’ and be numb to it,” he said Thursday as the nation reeled from the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.
Makruski has a unique insight into mass shootings. He spent a year organizing a huge multi-agency drill that unfolded this September at Steele High School, simulating an active shooter.
The News-Times was inside the building that day as an actor started firing very real-sounding blanks, as the first police and sheriff’s deputies arrived, as heavily-armed SWAT team members stormed the hallways, as paramedics gave aid to “victims,” and as the Lorain County Bomb Squad used a robot to search for faux explosives.
Our reporters learned a lot that day, including a heightened sense of empathy for those who live through real shootings.
With that experience under his belt, Makruski said seeing news coverage of the violence in California stirred some strong emotions.
“What’s going through my mind first is anger that it’s happening in our country when we do so much to keep it as safe as possible. When somebody in my line of work sees that, we’re angry that we couldn’t be there to stop it,” he said.
His second thought is what needs to be done to better prepare Amherst police officers, his National Guard unit, and his family.
The lieutenant said in the wake of the San Bernardino shootings he sat down with his two teenaged children for a serious talk.
“I told them to watch your back — watch your 12, your three, your six, your nine, then start over again. I told them to always have situational awareness no matter where you go,” Makruski said. “I wish I could always be there to protect them.”
On a communitywide scale, preparing Amherst for a crisis is a tough prospect.
While a shooting here might seem like a remote possibility, Makruski said it’s one that weighs heavily on his mind.
The state suffered its own heartbreaking school shooting in Chardon in 2012, when three students were killed and several others wounded, including one child who is permanently paralyzed.
Ohio had two mass shootings last month in Youngstown and Columbus, leaving five dead and six others injured.
In fact, November was a horrific month for shootings, many affecting small suburban communities not unlike our own.
The San Bernardino shooting was the 355th of 2015, occurring on just the 336th day of the year. But it wasn’t even the first mass shooting of the day — earlier, a 34-year-old woman was killed and three more people were injured by gunfire in Savannah, Ga.
According to www.shootingtracker.com, there were 33 mass shootings in the 30-day span. The site uses the FBI’s definition of the term — any incident in which four or more people are shot.
The death toll hit 54 for the month.
The question becomes how small police departments such as Amherst’s can prepare for the worst.
Makruski said citizens probably don’t want armed guards stationed at stores and offices and realistically there’s no way to pay for “a cop in every business place or on every corner.”
But there’s a clear need, he said, to be more consistent with emergency training. Police and other responders can’t afford to go through training peaks and valleys, he said.
Following the fall mock shooter drill at Steele, we’re seeing other police departments ramp up with similar training.
Avon has already contacted Makruski about information on large-scale drills. Oberlin police are also planning two upcoming active shooter scenarios; one will take place at Langston Middle School in December and the other at Oberlin College in January.
“Police want to be prepared,” Makruski said. “We don’t know what the future holds.”
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.
File photo Amherst police Lt. Dan Makruski organized a huge September drill to train a dozen area agencies in handling active shooter situations.