OU students take part in police-staged mall shooter training event

By Andrew Wernette

In a back room, fake latex wounds sealed in plastic baggies were spread out on the table, the names of their owners written on them in black marker. The student actors waited patiently as special effects technicians applied the stage blood to their clothes.

This was not the backstage of the Varner Studio Theatre.

Oakland University students from the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance played a central role in a police training event at Great Lakes Crossing Outlets in Auburn Hills Sunday evening, Sept. 21. The training was styled on a multiple shooter incident, with OU actors portraying wounded civilians and police officers.

Police forces from multiple jurisdictions took part in the training, including officers from the Auburn Hills and Oakland University police departments.

Days earlier, junior Theatre Design and Technology major, Rick McClure spoke about his part in the event as a special effects person.

“We can use our artistic license to embellish and make it a little more interesting for the police,” McClure said.

McClure added that he was excited to see his work be put to the test, especially since the team had never really done a run-through of the event.

“We got the script for this last weekend,” he said. “We had no rehearsal time.”

On event day, the mall closed earlier than usual for the training to take place. Everyone participating in the training met in the food court after all the customers had left.

“Thank you for helping us do this,” said Officer Brandon Hollenbeck of the Auburn Hills Police Department, one of the event’s organizers.

Hollenbeck read off a list of safety rules to the group and he encouraged the actors to be as realistic as possible.

“I want you to instill that fear inside of yourself,” Hollenbeck said.

Due to the secret nature of these trainings to preserve their shock effect for officers, no pictures or videos of the exercise were permitted.

The training began. A number of people impersonating gunmen went throughout the mall and pretended to gun down civilians, with teams of officers in pursuit. Two OUPD sergeants were among others observing the drill from afar. Those portraying the wounded and killed laid in states of distress. Alarms and gunshots from blank rounds rang out.

One of the actresses was Anna Marck, a junior in musical theatre. She described her role as a victim as wavering between simulation and reality.

“I tried to make the situation as real as possible,” she said. “There were moments that I got very emotional, and my view was of tears and splatters of stage blood on the ground. There were other moments when I was pulled out of the simulation anytime someone walked by who wasn’t directly related to creating the mood of the event.”

Eventually, she said, an officer came and helped her limp out on her “broken” ankle to the rest of her fellow actors.

“Even in a simulated tragic event, there’s nothing like seeing familiar faces when it’s over with,” she said.

MTD costume specialist Leslie Littel, who oversaw the OU team at the event, said that she was pleased with how the exercise went.

“It was awesome,” Littel said. “Probably one of the hardest things (for the actors) was to be still, but be in character.”

“The training was excellent,” OUPD Chief Mark Gordon said. “It provided an opportunity to train with other law enforcement agencies and to test overall response capabilities. I was very impressed with how OUPD officers performed.”