Employees receive training on handling active shooter

The images on the screen were awful.

Sheriff’s deputies attempt to keep an irate husband in a child support case from entering the Smith County Courthouse in Tyler, Texas.

David Arroyo fires an assault rifle as he charges the front door, killing two outside the courthouse. Deputies fire back, but several are wounded.

The incident ends in a vehicle chase and with a police sharpshooter killing Arroyo.

About 50 Blair County Courthouse employees watched video of the 2005 incident on Thursday afternoon as part of a program by the Sheriff’s Department’s Sgt. Rob Archey and Deputy Holly Garner to train workers to “detect, deter and defeat” violence that is sweeping the nation.

Archey said average citizens can do a lot to address violence, which it seems has reached a crescendo with shootings in a Colorado movie theater, mass murder in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and bombings at the Boston Marathon.

Blair County Sheriff Mitchell Cooper, a retired deputy police chief from Altoona, said, “I

couldn’t imagine somebody on a city street throwing IEDs [improvised explosive devices] at you,” which occurred in Boston.

Cooper thought about training courthouse employees to address violence before Newtown and Boston and before shootings in Blair County, a bombing in Cambria County and murders in Huntingdon and Centre counties that were related to courthouse issues.

Cooper said violence nationwide was increasing at courthouses, so he asked Archey, a former Baltimore and Altoona police officer, and Garner to address the subject.

Archey went to training and utilized materials from the Department of Homeland Security and the Pennsylvania State Police in putting together what is being called the Active Shooter Response.

“If you can foresee it happening, it will happen,” Archey said as he explained the average American tends to say, “That can’t happen here.”

Attempts at mass murder are “very, very rare,” Archey said. But “you can’t get around these situations by denying it can happen.”

“Denial kills physically. … Denial kills psychologically,” he said. That last comment was meant for department heads and courthouse employees who don’t know how to react when something bad happens and who might experience mental trauma if an employee or the public is injured.

“Detect,” he said.

People don’t just snap, Archey said. In most cases there are signs that somebody is going downhill.

On a 90 degree day, somebody who walks in the courthouse wearing heavy clothing should raise red flags.

He remembered an investigation he conducted as a police officer in which a 15-year-old girl killed herself with her father’s gun. During the investigation, the girl’s diary was found and what she did was predictable, Archey said.

The violent do not fear death, but they want to die on their own terms and at the time they set, probably after in some way communicating a grievance. “They want you to feel their pain,” Archey said.

If a shooting starts, he told employees to react quickly, to flee if they can, to hide if they can’t flee and, if there is no other option, to fight the attacker with whatever is available, such as scissors or a paperweight.

To women who aren’t used to physical violence, he said let the “mama bear” inside come out so they can once again see their children and grandchildren.

When law enforcement arrives, he told employees to “remain calm and follow officers’ instructions. Raise hands and spread fingers. Keep hands visible at all times.”

Archey ended his presentation by showing the aftermath of the Newtown massacre: the tears, the sadness, the lost children.

“Don’t let these deaths be in vain. Prepare,” Archey advised.

“I thought it was very informative,” said Aimee Auerbeck of the Blair County Prothonotary’s Office.

Courthouse employee Robin Patton, who had attended a prior presentation, said it is a good program, noting that is the case “any time we can learn to prevent a tragedy.”

Cooper said his office is doing a lot to make the courthouse a safe place.

Officers greet visitors at the door and conduct searches. The county has installed a camera system, which Cooper said is working well, and since last week’s Boston bombings, the sheriff daily has a roving officer who inspects all of the offices, the outside of the courthouse and the parking garages throughout the day.

Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.