By John Anderson

On Sunday evening, drivers along Southbridge St. were likely surprised by barricades at the Auburn Mall entrances and emergency vehicles amassed across the street. Auburn’s Citizens Emergency Response Team kept people out of the mall property while inside a massive training exercise commenced at about 7:45PM.

The Active Shooter Drill was designed by Oxford Fire Chief Sheri Bemis and involved both local and regional departments. Additionally, the Central Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council’s SWAT team practiced four of their six responsibilities: Armed Standoff, Barricaded Suspects, Hostage Situations and Dangerous Felon Pursuit. The team is under the direction of APD’s Sergeant Ken Charlton.

In a pre-event press release, Auburn Fire Rescue Chief Stephen M. Coleman Jr. stated, “Drills such as these are extremely critical in today’s society. It is imperative that as an organization we are prepared to respond during times of violent intruder incidents that produce mass casualties. Having the ability to train with all of our mutual aid partners as well as the business community to ensure a quick and efficient response to such a tragedy at any of our soft targets is imperative.”

Auburn Mall Manager Justin Feldhouse added, “The Auburn Mall appreciates the opportunity to train and prepare with our police and fire partners. We value and maintain a close working relationship with local first responders and law enforcement to ensure that the appropriate security measures are being taken to help provide a safe environment at our mall.”

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Along with television crews from Channel 3 and Fox News, Auburn Mass Daily observed from the concourse between Sears and Kay Jewelers where the incident allegedly began. Several “victims” were on the ground in the area when three on-duty Auburn Police Officers entered the mall armed with AR-15 assault rifles. After they progressed through the mall, CEMLEC SWAT members arrived, secured the area, and did a secondary search. The event also included hostage negotiations once the suspects were isolated.

According to Chief Coleman, the Fire Science Club from Anna Maria College provided 16 victims for the drill. Two District 7 Ambulance Strike Teams were activated bringing in 9 additional Ambulances to the scene. Those communities that sent Ambulances were Oxford, Webster, Leicester, Charlton, Dudley, Sturbridge, Uxbridge, Southbridge and Northbridge

In addition to Auburn Fire Rescue’s duty crew of 7, additional members were recalled and 8 other members responded to the scene. Also on scene were 4 members from the District 7 Communications Team that operated a Field Communications Unit. Ironically, and as the exercise began, both Auburn ambulances were out on real emergencies, so the first ambulance to arrive was a mutual aid unit from Oxford.

Another 15 people served as evaluators for the drill including Uxbridge Police Chief Jeffrey Lourie who knows the Auburn Mall very well from his years in town. About 25 SWAT Officers participated plus the 3 APD officers that were first to arrive. There were approximately 100 emergency responders involved in the drill. On the mall side, there were approximately 90 employees that participated.

With mall shootings in Burlington, Washington before and Houston, Texas after this exercise, the importance is amplified. Auburn Police Chief Andrew Sluckis told Auburn Mass Daily, “I would say that if you ran this drill 20 years ago everyone would think it was a colossal waste of time. Unfortunately, in today’s world this has become reality and it can happen anywhere in the country, so we need to train and be as prepared as possible.”