Gunfire erupted early Thursday morning aboard Camp Lejeune.
During the Urgent Response exercise, an active-shooter drill meant to test the base's response to live-shooter and mass casualty situation, three Marines opened fire with nine-millimeter pistols, injuring 18 people and causing many more to flee the scene unharmed. Following the gunfire at 8:46 a.m., four military police officers responded within the first two minutes of receiving the initial call, which was two minutes after the shooting began.
When the officers arrived, they immediately shot and killed one of the shooters and confiscated two pistols. The four officers held their position beside the shooter's body, which was roughly 50 feet away from the casualties and began radioing to dispatch about what had occurred. The two other shooters, who fled prior to police officers arriving, began firing their weapons in an adjacent building approximately eight minutes after officers arrived. Three of the four police officers then maneuvered to the location of the remaining shooters while one officer remained at the first scene. Because the officers had not cleared the adjacent building upon their arrival, the lone officer was still unable to render first aid safely to the 18 wounded men and women."When the firing started at the other location, the others took off and I held back to make sure nothing happened over here," said Lance Cpl. Adam Arneson about why he was left alone by the other officers. "If we have enough (officers), we won't just leave one guy. You want to have a partner, because that truly makes things safer."
For the 42 minutes until EMS arrived, Arneson stood and watched as some victims writhed in agony, still unable to provide first aid because of the nearby threat. While Arneson said it was difficult to just stand idle, he said that he would have been no good to the injured if he was killed by another potential shooter hiding in the adjacent building.
"We need to work on our communication because everyone was trying to talk over one another on the radios during the drill," Arneson said of things that could be improved upon regarding emergency response. "Dispatch needs to know what is going on so they can tell people what to do, and that was difficult with so many people talking. Communication is absolutely vital so we need to get a little better with that."
In the meantime, the three police officers in pursuit of the other shooters discovered that they had taken an unknown number of hostages inside of a one-story building. While the officers surrounded the building, Camp Lejeune, using its installation-wide loud speaker system, announced that the base was simulating a lock-down, which during a real active-shooting would result in all gates being closed with nobody allowed on or off the installation. As the officers maintained the perimeter around the building, informal hostage negotiations were conducted by one of the officers, starting at 8:14 a.m.
Ten minutes later, the hostage negotiator from the Marine Corps' Criminal Investigative Division arrived and took over as the lead negotiator and discovered that five hostages were inside. Through negotiations two hostages were released. At 11:55 the base's Special Response Team, entered the building killing one of the shooters. The second shooter was wounded and immediately taken into custody by law enforcement.
As the deputy director of operations and plans for security and emergency services aboard Camp Lejeune, Marine Maj. Tito Jones said that the annual exercise was meant to "dust off" the responders' skills and ensure they know how to perform adequately and effectively. The drills, he said, are important because they tests the installation's responses to events such as active shootings and mass casualties.
"As you can see in the world, there are catastrophic events that take place every single day and we have to have the ability to respond to those appropriately," he said. "Exercises like this allow us to do just that."
Following the exercise, the commanding general of Marine Corps Installations East, Brig. Gen. Robert Castellvi, will review the event and determine any changes that need to be made to ensure that the base is responding appropriately to crises. In addition to Castellvi's review, there were also contractors present to evaluate the first responders on the ground, which according to Jones, allows responders to focus on their jobs and not focus too much on what can be improved.
When the base lock-down was announced at 8:48 a.m., it took the Naval Hospital eight minutes to completely secure all departments. Nine minutes after the hospital was locked down, the first two patients arrived by personal vehicles. Upon their arrival, medical staff from across the hospital began triage in a mass casualty collection point outside of the Emergency Room and then transported patients to the necessary departments within the hospital for appropriate care. The remaining patients were transported to the Naval Hospital by approximately 9:40 a.m.
As the division officer for the emergency room, Martin Summerville, a retired Navy nurse, said that while there was room for improvement on communication and availability of supplies, the mass casualty response conducted by the hospital was an overall success.
"This is something that we practice routinely to make sure our capabilities are current and so we can be prepared to take care of patients if this were ever to happen for real," Summerville said. "We tracked 21 patients today and we were able to triage and get the patients to the providers within an hour of the incident."
The importance of being prepared, he said, is of the utmost importance because of the most recent shooting at Fort Hood. However, this week's training, according to Nat Fahy, the public affairs officer for Marine Corps Installations East, was planned in advance of and was not in response to the shooting on Wednesday at Fort Hood, an Army base in Killeen, Texas.
Summerville also said that these drills are important because those who use the Naval Hospital need to know the medical staff are qualified and prepared to treat mass casualties in the event one would occur.
As the assistant lead petty officer in the emergency room, Petty Officer 2nd Class Courtney Osborne, 26, of Detroit said that her responsibilities included handling the litters used to transport patients as well as conducting initial and follow-on triage of the patients.
For her , the most difficult part of treating the mass casualties is communication, because people from all departments across the hospital who may never have worked together before and might be used to being in charge are on the scene; but during a mass casualty, having medical providers from outside the emergency room helping can initially cause a "stumble," she said, but that is something that is quickly overcome.
"It's a little bit difficult in the beginning, but every provider and corpsman in the hospital come together and accomplish the mission," Osborne said. "We experienced small hiccups, but that is what this training is for, so we won't see the same issues next time.
"It's all about improving."