CASPER, Wyo. — Aubrey Truman was swinging on the playground at Worland’s East Side Elementary School about 10 a.m. Thursday when she received the scare of her life.
A man in a hooded sweatshirt with a suspicious backpack appeared in the back of the playground. The hood was pulled over his head.
The school’s gym teacher, Kevin Heyer, approached the man, tapped him on the shoulder and asked his name.
Heyer said the man took off running.
At that point, Heyer, who will be retiring from the district this year at 61, began blowing his whistle. But he had been briefed earlier in the week, and he figured it was a drill.
“Run! Run!” he said he shouted to the kids, pointing to the far field, opposite of the supposed intruder.
But Aubrey recalled him screaming something else.
“He’s got a gun! He’s got a gun!” she thought he said.
Heyer denies saying “gun.”
Another student, Kaydence Munoz, age 9, told her mom that she didn’t hear the word “gun” come out the gym teacher’s mouth, either. She did hear it from other students, though.
Nonetheless, Aubrey and other students, from first through fifth grade, ran to the far field of the playground, where they huddled and tried to make sense of what was happening.
Aubrey began to shake. She was terrified. Am I going to die? she thought. Will I ever see my parents again?
Heyer said he noticed that other students were upset, too.
Then, as another teacher attempted to group the students by grade level and keep them calm, two law enforcement officers walked onto the playground. They were smiling, Aubrey recalled.
The officers told Aubrey — and all the other students on the playground — the ordeal was just a drill. The students didn’t think it was funny.
For the rest of the day, Aubrey couldn’t shake thoughts of death from her head. It bothered her so much that on Friday her mom, Amy Truman, kept her and her older brother home from school.
The school conducted the drill in conjunction with local law enforcement to prepare students for an intruder situation.
The school’s principal, Linda Anderson, confirmed that Aubrey and her classmates outside weren’t alone. None of the students had been notified before the man, who she said was unarmed, made his way around the building as part of the drill.
According to state data, that’s roughly 200 students who were kept out of the loop.
Shortly after she was contacted by the Star-Tribune, though, Anderson said she had to go and arranged a later time to talk. Subsequent attempts to reach her went unanswered.
The school’s superintendent denied that the word “gun” was used or that students were directly affected. The exercise, as far as he was aware, typified the district’s lockdown procedure, he said.
Munoz, however, told her mom that she saw the intruder reach for one of her friends as he chased after them. This could not be confirmed.
Washakie County Sheriff Steve Rakness, who led the training, told the local newspaper Friday that the training was a success.
“We identified some things we need to work on, but otherwise no problems whatsoever,” the Northern Wyoming Daily News reported Rakness saying. “I think they know what they need to do,” he added.
A dispatcher at the sheriff’s office told the Star-Tribune on Friday that Rakness was out of the office until Monday. The dispatcher, before hanging up, refused to provide a number for Rakness.
Kimball Croft, who heads emergency management, and helped with the training, also deferred comment to Rakness.
While the sheriff might characterize the drill as a success, Amy Truman and other parents disagree.
When she picked up her daughter at school about 3:30 p.m. Thursday, she could tell something was wrong. Her daughter was still shaking and there were tears in her eyes.
“You won’t believe what happened in school today,” the mother recalled her daughter saying.
Although she completely disagrees with the school’s decision to let students think the training was real, she understands their reasoning.
However, she continues to struggle with why parents weren’t notified beyond a email that was sent May 12.
The email, obtained by the Star-Tribune, called the event “a low level training exercise” that would happen “sometime this week.” Because the school had conducted drills in the past, she thought nothing of it.
“This training exercise will test the response and lock-down procedures of the school and response procedures for local 1st responders,” the email stated.
A short article in the local newspaper on May 13 summarized the email.
Amy Munoz is furious she wasn’t notified beforehand.
“They took it to an extreme not to discuss this with parents and the community beforehand,” she said. “It’s a slap in the face.”
“They just think they can do whatever they want with our kids,” she added.
Munoz also wondered why the school grouped kids in an open field, where, had it been a real situation, the students would have been an easy target.
Natrona County School District Risk Manager Andrea Nester said that it would be difficult to comment on the drill without knowing all the details.
But she said, “Unless parents are well-informed,” involving kids in an active intruder training is “something we frown upon in our district,” for there’s a risk of traumatizing the students.
Alda Pedraza, the mother of a fifth-grader, said that’s what happened to her daughter. She wonders why the drill couldn’t resemble a fire drill, where students are aware of what is going on but still get the practice they need.
“I don’t think we need to scare the kids,” she said.