PINEDALE — I had just finished a Street Talk interview of first responders at the Lovatt Room and decided to go across the street to the Pinedale Community United Church of Christ, where a mass-casualty training exercise was underway.
I had my camera and note pad out when I walked over and stood beside Sheriff KC Lehr.
“Terry, you are welcome to follow our guys in and record everything you want,” he said.
“Our guys,” consisted of representatives from the Sheriff’s Office, Wyoming Highway Patrol, Sublette County Unified Fire and EMTs from the clinic.
An incident-starting horn sounded and law enforcement, hailed down by a bloody parishioner, carefully entered the church. I was right behind them as they went into a dark room filled with screams of pain, moans and wails of hysteria. Blood was everywhere. Volunteers playing victims for the purpose of the exercise were adorned with gaping holes and missing limbs were scattered about. Victims crawled on the floor, curled up in terror, shrieked and begged piteously for help. Some were silent, dead or unconscious.
All the victims were given a script of what to say and how to present their wounds to the first responders. Law enforcement officers cleared each room and each person according to regulation and finally discovered the sole perpetrator with a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
First responders triaged the wounded and the most seriously injured were given immediate life-saving care and evacuated by ambulance. Victims with less serious injuries, like an eyeball hanging out or a leg being shot off, were transported out to the sidewalk where a squad of EMTs tended to them until a fresh wave of ambulances arrived for another load.
I found myself standing next to Sheriff Lehr again. We silently watched the horror of our families and friends being treated before us. I think he spoke first.
“It’s terrible that we even have trainings like this. Unfortunately, no one is immune,” he said. “Just yesterday we had a shooting incident in Thermopolis.”
Natalie Michaud had a head wound she self-wrapped with a delicate scarf from another era. She was able to walk about, but even in her state of shock, she was asking that others be helped first. I asked her how she found her character.
“I’ve been thinking about it for two weeks. I just came up with what felt right for me,” she said.
Poor little Lizzy Wagstaff had lost a leg and was in a constant state of pain and terror. It seemed like an hour that she wailed. It affected me so strongly I almost stepped in and stopped it. I was afraid she was doing psychological damage to herself. I asked her how she had become such a believable and determined actor.
“I’ve done this before,” she said. “I had a big injury and I decided I wanted to help give the first responders the best possible, next-to-real-life training they could get, so I practiced a lot before today’s event.”
As I was writing this story, someone in Texas shot five people dead, including an 8-year-old child.