Area Teachers Learn the Sound of Gunfire

WHEELING – Teachers and support staff at Wheeling Park High School learned Friday what a weapon fired in the school’s hallways sounds and smells like as they witnessed a school shooting demonstration in the building.

Law enforcement agents with the Operation Safe Schools Initiative fired blanks with pistols ranging from .22 caliber to .45 caliber, a .223-caliber rifle and a 12-gauge shotgun from three different locations in the school as the teachers and staff gathered in the drivers’ education room at WPHS. The weapons were fired from near the main office, outside the Patriot Cafe and in the hallway near the drivers’ education room.

Classes were not in session Friday as Christmas break for students has begun.

Members of the Operation Safe Schools team include FBI agents, State Police troopers and sheriff’s deputies from Jefferson County, W.Va. They came to Ohio County on Friday at the request of U.S. Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld II.

“What we do today doesn’t excite us,” said Jeff Cisar, special agent with the FBI office in Martinsburg, W.Va. “This is sick what we’re doing. We know that. We respect that. This is disgusting. We’re firing guns in schools. You’re going to hear what guns shot off in a school sound like because you’re expected to be the people to make a difference and try to react.”

The sound of the shots ranged from a minor “pop” that likely wouldn’t stand out among other school sounds, to reverberating reports from the shotgun and .223-caliber rifle. Cisar told the teachers and staff they should feel the difference in vibration between a shot from a weapon and a large book being dropped on the floor outside their classroom.

The team began Friday in Marshall County at John Marshall High School, where Cisar said at least one person present suffered an anxiety attack during the demonstration. The weapon fire also set off the fire alarms there, which often happens during the demonstration, he said.

Additional demonstrations also took place in Ohio County Friday at Triadelphia Middle School and Wheeling Middle School.

“We hope we never have to deal with this,” said Assistant Superintendent Bernie Dolan. “But as in all our safety issues, we have to plan.”

WPHS Assistant Principal Katrina Lewis said she was pleased she and the school staff had the opportunity to witness the demonstration.

“Education is what is going to have an impact,” she said. “This is helping us if we would need to deal with such a situation.”