The drill was intense. The sights and sounds were real. Sunday night officers responded to an all too familiar situation.
"It was chilling to hear the words over our radio, 'Report of shots fired at the Lansing Mall," said Deputy Sheriff Brian Thomas, who's been with the department for more than 15 years. "I've been to a few different active shooter trainings and this is the very first at the Lansing Mall--which was the most terrifying of all of them."
The scenario was as real as it gets. It had two shooters and six victims. In addition to the sheriff's deputies and special response team, dispatch and the Delta Township Fire Department were also involved.
Deputy Thomas was among the first person to enter the building.
The training took place after regular business hours when the mall was closed, but volunteers helped make the training realistic, and officers say the emotions were there.
"We're trained to respond directly toward the gunshots to neutralize the attacker," said Thomas. "We could hear the screaming, so we went toward the screaming."
When police arrive on a scene, their first item of business is to remove any threat--that way no one else gets hurt. Then they take care of the victims, and then the special response unit checks the entire building.
The officers said this training gives them confidence. It showed them what they are capable of and how they can improve.
A mall is different than a school or church and so police practice responding to each, with different training exercises. The Eaton County Sheriff's office had a similar training exercise at Olivet College two weeks ago.
"Repetition means a lot to our deputies and the more training we get the better prepared Eaton County will be," said Eaton County Sheriff Tom Reich.
The Sheriff's Office hopes to hold two or three more training exercises again next year.
"We find out what we are good at and we improve those areas," said Sheriff Reich. "If we keep doing these training scenarios, our deputies are going to be fantastic, and right now they are already doing a really good job on these trainings."
It's the last thing anyone wants, but the reality is a shooting can happen anywhere, at anytime and Eaton County is doing its best to be prepared.
"If this actually happens some day in Mid-Michigan, we can respond knowing that we can work as a team and effectively save as many lives as we can," said Thomas.