Local agencies train for future incident together

BLUE SPRINGS – Area law enforcers took May’s tragic hostage situation in Sherman and turned it into a positive training opportunity for the region over the weekend.
Northeast Mississippi’s law enforcement pooled resources to rescue two children who’d been taken hostage after their mother was fatally shot by her ex-husband on May 14.
Kim Cox, 40, was killed during the hostage situation that went into the early hours of May 15, and David Cox Sr. 39, has been charged with her murder.
Tupelo Police Chief Tony Carleton said teamwork was the key to saving the children. To keep the bridge between the agencies, Carleton’s crew and Union County Sheriff Tommy Wilhite pursued Saturday’s training exercise with multiple agencies.
On Saturday, Wilhite and Carleton co-commanded an Emergency Response Drill for agencies in the tri-county area of Lee, Union and Pontotoc counties. The drills were conducted at the Toyota Plant in Blue Springs. Even though Toyota had nothing to do with the drills or the scenarios conducted, Carleton said being able to work in a facility of that size allowed for a wide range of training options.
“We live in a time where we have to be prepared for any situation,” said Carleton. “We have to make sure we know who does what, who has what equipment and who goes where if the unthinkable ever does happen in our area. Bringing all these agencies together helps to do all of that. It helps us to familiarize ourselves with one another in the area and to find out what we all do well and what we can bring to the table.”
More than 100 officers, deputies, firemen and emergency personnel were on hand for the nearly four-hour training session. Lee County Deputy Sheriff John Hall, along with members of the Lee County S.W.A.T. team, participated in the drill. Even though Saturday’s emergency situations were not real, Hall said going through them in practice was just as important as the real deal.
“If we do one of these scenarios today and nothing goes wrong then we have a problem,” said Hall. “There is no such thing as perfect when dealing with these types of situations. So we want to make mistakes out here because if we wait until a real situation to happen before we start making mistakes, then lives can be lost.”
In one scenario, men were holding people hostage in the plant. Members of the S.W.A.T. team had to go in and rescue the hostages and arrest the suspects. A negotiator was sent in to talk the armed suspects into surrendering. Snipers were strategically positioned to take down the suspects. Firemen and emergency personnel were in place as well.
While Carleton, Wilhite and others were scrambling at the mobile command post set up outside the plant, many people driving on U.S. Highway 78 thought something really was going on.
Maggie Stone was on her way home to New Albany from Tupelo when she spotted a fire engine about two miles away from the plant. After getting closer, Stone said she saw dozens of police cars and men with guns walking around, so she turned in to see what was going on.
“They looked so serious that I thought something was wrong,” said Stone. “Pulling in to see what people with guns were doing may not have been the best idea I’ve had all day though. But I saw police so I thought people were inside the plant.”
After all the training was done, Carleton and Wilhite said it was a success.
“We got a chance to see where we were as a unit made up of multiple agencies,” Carleton said. “We had a few communications problems with agencies using different channels and stuff, but that was what today was about. Finding what worked and what didn’t in order to make a stronger unit just in case something ever did happen where we all had to come together.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or danza.johnson@djournal.com.

Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal