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Marines sharpen skills for school-defense at Quantico

Marine Corps Police officers secure a stairwell during a training exercise to respond to a shooting at Quantico Middle High School in Quanti
Marine Corps Police officers secure a stairwell during a training exercise to respond to a shooting at Quantico Middle High School in Quanti

By Ian Simpson

QUANTICO, Virginia (Reuters) - There has never been a shooting at a Defense Department school and the Marines are doing their best to ensure one never takes place.

Bombs, blood, dozens of gunshots, billowing smoke, screaming teenagers, bodies sprawled on the gym floor - all of it fake - were part of the first school shooting exercise at Marine Corps Base Quantico, known as "the Crossroads of the Marine Corps."

The exercise on Thursday gave a glimpse of training that has become a fact of life at schools, civilian and military, across the United States. Pete Russett, who ran the drill, said its planning had been spurred in part by the Newtown, Connecticut, school massacre in December that claimed 26 lives.

"When that came it reiterated the importance of good planning for us, that it could happen at a school, that somebody would be crazy enough to shoot kids," Russett, who oversees police and fire services at the sprawling base, told Reuters.

The exercise at Quantico, about 40 miles south of Washington, had been in the works for about a year but a double murder-suicide at the base's Officer Candidates School in March gave it extra impetus, he said.

A burst of seven blank gunshots launched the exercise as two shooters in black T-shirts stormed through the main doors at Quantico Middle/High School, which was closed during the drill.

Two "students" - actually Marines chosen for their youthful appearance - fell inside the entrance. An exercise coordinator poured stage blood over them, a plastic drop cloth protecting the lobby floor.

AK-47 AND HANDGUNS

Armed with an AK-47 rifle and handguns, the gunmen - Marine Captain Josephy Reilly and Rick Scott, a private security contractor - methodically moved through the school trailed by yellow-vested coordinators.

The pair played the role of fictional student brothers, the Bushes, whose father's death in Afghanistan had driven them over the edge. Like many participants, they wore body-mounted video cameras whose images could be analyzed later for training purposes.

A teacher was shot in a hallway and a bomb was placed in front of the library. In the gymnasium, Scott shot a school guard and gunned down 10 students, who lay writhing and groaning.

"Look at all that blood. I got you guys," Scott taunted the men, waving the AK-47. Smoke filled the main hall from a second bomb and a fire alarm went off.

About five minutes after the attack began, Marine police entered the gym and shot down Scott. Reilly holed up in the cafeteria with hostages and began negotiating with police.

The exercise, which involved about 200 people from 12 agencies, came to an abrupt halt when a sniffer dog found the library bomb. Shouting "avalanche," all the officers, including a tactical squad wearing body armor, left the building.

The tactical squad regrouped to assault Reilly in a shouting rush. They handcuffed him and freed the hostages, then checked the rest of the school, turning up real-life teachers who had locked themselves in classrooms and "students" hiding in restrooms.

Mike Gould, superintendent for Quantico's school district, which reaches from Puerto Rico to New York, called the exercise "critically important."

"We'll learn from this drill and plan another one," he said. The Quantico district is part of the Department of Defense's Education Activity (DODEA) unit, which oversees dozens of U.S. military base schools for the children of military personnel.

A DODEA spokeswoman said there had never been a shooting incident at one of its schools.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

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