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Jimmy Wigfield / The Outlook Alexander City Firemedics treat the injured after getting a call about a car exploding in the Benjamin Russell parking lot. The explosion was a diversion so two shooters could get into the school during an active shooter drill Monday.

Two shooters simulated setting off an explosion in a parking lot next to Benjamin Russell on Monday providing a diversion before going into the high school and killing people with assault weapons during a drill.

Such was the scenario Alexander City-area first responders practiced Monday and hope never becomes a reality.

It would be an “unthinkable tragedy,” Tallapoosa County Emergency Management Agency director Jason Moran said.

In the active shooter exercise, 13 people were transported to Russell Medical, 10 of them in critical condition, and six were already dead on arrival, according to Alexander City Fire Department chief Reese McAlister.

One of the shooters killed himself and the other was cornered, beaten and held by students and teachers in the school auditorium until officers took him into custody.

In the drill, the shooters used an explosive device to detonate a car then wielded two assault weapons in their deadly rampage in the school, according to Alexander City Police Department Sgt. William Grant.

“There was a distraction from an explosion and the shooters entered through the ninth-grade building door,” Grant said.

The exercise was a success and response to the shooters appeared well coordinated, officials said.

“The preliminary feedback was all positive,” Moran said. “Anything is possible.”

ACFD Capt. Jeff Brewer, who was in charge of the drill, said participants took it seriously.

“It actually went very well,” he said. “When you’ve got this many agencies and people in a drill, sometimes it’s hard because it’s not real. People sometimes look past the fact it’s a drill and want to get it over with and they go through the motions.”

Brewer said it was the first time local first responders practiced a scenario with two active shooters and tried to make it as realistic as possible for rookie Alexander City Fire Department EMT Zack Dobbs, who portrayed the surviving shooter and had a horrendous head wound after being attacked by students and teachers in the auditorium.

“I tried my best to get him to run so the police could taze him,” Brewer joked. “I told them he’s a rookie so rough him up a little bit.”

Victims were treated at the scene before being transported to Russell Medical, which activated its disaster plan, according to hospital spokesperson Susan Foy. Officers systematically searched classrooms with backup and questioned survivors who provided identifying information on the shooters and where they went in the building.

“I think we are prepared and we have a plan and I think we can execute the plan,” Alexander City Schools superintendent Dr. Keith Lankford said. “We have a lot of ‘what ifs’ and it’s great to have an opportunity to plan it. I thought the response from every responder was good. This is a plan we’ve got to keep up to date daily.” 

Lankford said he was pleased it took less than two minutes for all city schools to go into lockdown from the time he was notified of the incident.

In the drill, uninjured students were escorted to a safe zone then transported to the Charles E. Bailey Sportplex, where parents could pick them up.

The exercise was also a test of the 211 system funded by the United Way and designed to keep 911 operators from becoming overwhelmed by calls to provide information.

A mock press conference was conducted afterward by participating agencies at Central Alabama Community College, where an emergency communications center was based.

The drill was delayed about 15 minutes because the Alexander City Fire Department had five real ambulance runs Monday morning, Brewer said.

Participating agencies included the Alexander City Police and Fire departments, Alexander City Schools, the Alexander City Rescue Squad, the Tallapoosa County Sheriff’s Office, the Tallapoosa County Emergency Management Agency, Russell Medical, the Red Cross, the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Alabama Department of Public Health.