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Students with fake blood splattered on their faces and bodies milled around Rancho Verde High School.

Each had a role to play — helping the Val Verde Unified School District stage an active-shooter training session at the Moreno Valley campus on Thursday, July 21.

The district — the only school system in Riverside County with its own police department — used more than 200 adults and students in the training, which came about two months after the mass shooting at an Uvalde, Texas, elementary school that killed 19 students and two teachers.

Recordings of screams blaring from the school’s PA system signaled the start of the realistic drill. Some “actors” were painted and sprayed with a corn syrup, chocolate and food coloring cocktail to mimic blood. School district officials and first responders waited in front of the school before entering campus to respond to a scenario that involved a man with a gun.

At Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, law enforcement leaders have been roundly criticized after it took more than an hour before the gunman was finally confronted by authorities and killed. A report released Sunday, July 17, concludes it is “almost certain” that at least 100 shots were fired by the gunman before any officer entered.

Val Verde’s Police Chief Mark Clark said his department would handle such a situation differently.

“It’s an unwritten rule in our department: ‘You will not wait, you will go in,’ and our officers, this is what they signed up for,” Clark said. “They signed up to work for a school police agency, so they understand the inherent risks with it.”

The training gave first responders and school officials, including some from other parts of Riverside County, a chance to prepare in case of a real shooting.

“The more we practice, if that day comes, we’re going to be as ready as we can be,” said Frank Navarro, a retired San Bernardino County Sheriff’s detective and current Val Verde police officer.

As the first scenario started to unfold Thursday morning, the school’s alarm and recorded screaming rang through the campus. The sounds of officers and the “suspect” firing blank rounds could be heard from the front of the school.

Officers ran across the grass — around students and adults portraying dead or injured victims — as they pursued the man playing the shooter. Triage and treating of the “victims” followed.

Eight similar scenarios with different teams of police officers followed every hour.

Clark said the training was meant to make officers uncomfortable.

“Today, the stress level is going to be very, very high,” he said.

Some role players participated in the event to understand how officers would approach such a real-life situation.

Alejandro Rosas, a junior at Citrus Hill High School in Perris, said he volunteered to gain insight on what police officers go through when there is an active shooter on a campus.

“I know everything was fake, so I thought it was a good situation, but I wasn’t scared,” Rosas said.

Mike Moyer, an assistant pastor at Mountain Avenue Baptist Church in Banning who portrayed a chaplain during the drill, went into the training with the same mindset.

“It’s good to be aware how the police will respond and know what to expect,” Moyer said.

Active-shooter training in the Val Verde district, which includes parts of Moreno Valley and Perris areas, last took place in 2019 because of the coronavirus pandemic but resumed this year.

Similar drills have been staged recently by the Boys and Girls Club of Southwest County, the Beaumont Unified School District and Beaumont Police Department and the Menifee Union School District and Menifee Police Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Moreno Valley drill trains police for school shooting

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