Reports of an active shooter at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s medical center on Thursday were determined to be a false alarm but not until after three hours passed during which local, state and federal law enforcement responded and loved ones waited anxiously outside closed base gates.
Someone from inside Wright-Patterson Medical Center called 911 around 12:40 p.m. Thursday. It’s unclear what the 911 caller reported but the call went to the base’s operation center and prompted Wright-Patt’s security forces and fire department to respond.
“Ultimately, and I cannot stress this enough, our base responders are highly trained to quickly assess these situations and take necessary action,” said Col. Tom Sherman, Wright-Patt installation commander. “We treat all scenarios with a level of urgency to determine the reality and ensure that we’re responding according to the situations which are dictated to us.”
In response to the call, Wright-Patt security forces began a systematic sweep and clear of the entire hospital facility, Sherman said. Speakers on the base were asking people to stay where they were at and people were reportedly being escorted out of the hospital with their hands up.
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Security personnel “discharged their firearm” in an attempt to breach a locked door at the medical center. That use of a firearm, Sherman said, is now under investigation.
Though the incident began around 12:40 p.m., base officials did not announce that it was a false alarm until shortly after 3:30 p.m. In those nearly three hours, all base gates were temporarily sealed and state and local law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had all responded.
Despite the chaos that ensued, no one was injured during the incident.
At the same time reports of a shooter started to emerge, a scheduled quarterly training session — that included an active shooter scenario in the — was taking place in Kittyhawk area of the base, nearly half a mile away from the medical center. The exercise was conducted with fake guns that made no sound of gunfire, said base spokesman Daryl Mayer.
“We don’t have any reason to believe the 911 caller was influenced by any exercise activity,” Mayer said.
Wright-Patt employs more than 27,000 people making it the largest single-site employer in Ohio with an estimated $4.2-billion economic impact annually.
The medical center was originally built in 1956 and underwent a $99-million renovation in January 2012. The center has about a $140 million budget, 2,100 employees and admits more than 4,000 people per year, according to its license.
Although the active shooter situation turned out to be a false alarm, employees were asked to stay clear of the hospital as the incident unfolded.
Elena Arrasmith, who works on base, said she was on a break from training exercises and found the base on lock down when she came back. Arrasmith, who works as an administrator on base, said she hadn’t experienced anything similar to this in her time on the base.
“We were just in our exercise,” Arrasmith said. “I left for lunch and came back to a real world event happening.”
Arrasmith was waiting outside of the base at around 2:40 p.m. to pick up her daughter, who was on base.
“I just want to go and get her and I can’t,” She said. “I don’t think I’ve experienced anything … worse than that.”
At Tickets Pub and Eatery in downtown Fairborn, televisions usually tuned to sports were tuned to NewsCenter 7 following coverage of the reported active shooter situation.
“Everyone was shocked,” said bartender Cheryl Abbitt of the reaction when the news first came out.
Patrons included military members and others who couldn’t get back onto the base. Some were convinced it was a training exercise that led to a miscommunication, though they had no official information to confirm that.
Meanwhile, across the street from the gate leading to the hospital, Andy Kramer’s hands shook as he read texts from his wife who works at the hospital.
The first, cryptic text came as he was getting ready to go for a bike ride.
“I love you and the girls and our grand-baby very much,” it said. “Thank you for everything you do.”
She then went on to write that she was barricaded into her office and there was a hostage situation in the mental health wing. Andy wrote back assuring her law enforcement would keep her safe. Finally, after more than an hour, she texted to say they had gotten her out.
“Scariest thing of my life,” Andy said.
Cassie Barlow, former 88th Air Base Wing commander, called the news about the active shooting “disturbing,” but said individuals on base are trained to respond to active shooter incidents.
Barlow said there was never an active shooter during her time as commander, but there were drills like the one going on today. There was a shooting at the hospital in June 2011 when a man tried to commit suicide with 9 mm handgun. The man was uninjured and surrendered to base security forces.
“You never want to see something like this happen and my heart is beating really fast right now just based on all my experience and training,” Barlow said. “There’s so many trained individuals at Wright Patterson who know exactly what to do because they’ve walked through this exact scenario.”
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