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Chicago police respond to report of active shooter; it was a drill that went 'horribly wrong'

By PETER NICKEAS, ROSEMARY SOBOL, ELIZA FAWCETT AND ALICE YIN | Chicago Tribune | Published: July 18, 2019

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Chicago police scrambled to a Loop office building Thursday afternoon after getting a call about an active shooter, but it ended up being a drill that employees were not told about, authorities said.

The call came in shortly after 1 p.m. for the seventh floor of the building. The caller said people were hiding in conference rooms because of a shooter, police said.

The first arriving officers entered with shields and split into two teams and headed to the seventh floor, where they found people hiding but no evidence of gunfire or that anyone had been shot or had fired a weapon, police said.

When police found the 911 caller, they learned he had been given information by someone in Dallas about an active shooter and called police. Other people appeared to have heard about the active shooter and called 911 on their own.

“Active Shooter DRILL at 225 W. Randolph,” police tweeted as officers on the scene collected details. “No reports of injuries. No active shooter threat.”

At least one group of people in a conference room didn’t know there was an active shooter report and didn’t start hiding until they saw police at the building, according to police.

More than an hour after getting the call, officers continued checking each floor for people who had locked or barricaded themselves into bathrooms and conference rooms. Residents and workers filed out of revolving doors. Many were quiet with solemn looks on their faces. One woman walked out in tears and was greeted with a hug by another woman, the two of them surrounded by others on the phone with loved ones.

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“I’m all kinds of shook right now,” said Stephanie Johnson, 34, wiping tears off her cheeks. “We were looking out the window, we could see all the cars lined up, we could see the police taking out rifles,” she said.

Johnson said she and her co-workers received a text alert of “ongoing police activity” in the building, telling them to take shelter. “Everyone started running and hiding,” she said, describing total panic on the 26th floor. Johnson ran into a coat closet and left a voicemail for her mom, telling her that she loved her.

First District Cmdr. Michael Pigott called the situation an “active shooter drill that went terribly wrong,” saying that a “proper notification was not made.”

He said the building management knew about the drill but didn’t “clarify” that information to people in the building. “Apparently a text message went out,” the commander said. “They were testing their system and people took that literally.

“The police response was very heavy,” Pigott said. “We found nothing … People were barricaded inside and we were going floor by floor … There was a 10- to 12-minute window in which we thought it was a bona fide shooting.”

Pigott blamed building management for not following proper procedure. “We should be notified when a drill like this is taking place … It was not conducted properly.”

The city is investigating “how they can do better next time. Again, there’s a better way to do these drills,” he said.

The commander credited his officers with doing a “wonderful job responding. We take these events very seriously.”

Tamarion Dawson, 29, was coming down the elevators from the 28th floor of the building when he walked into the chaos of the lobby. “As soon as I got off the elevators, cops are there with guns out. It was real scary,” Dawson said.

He said the police officers asked him whether he had come from the seventh floor and saying there might be an active shooter in the building.

Hundreds of people lined the north side of Randolph, across the street from the building. Around 1:20 p.m., police began pushing them back and securing the entire block with yellow tape.

Enrique Memije, a 17-year-old student of Horizon Science Academy McKinley Park, said he was interning nearby when he saw police with guns out running inside the building and people outside calling residents they knew inside the building. He heard a chorus of voices frantically asking, “Where are you? Are you OK?”

“I think it’s a wake-up call that it’s not hard to believe there would be an active shooter given the state of things,” Enrique said. “This is not something you question anymore.”

Police reopened the sidewalks on West Randolph at 1:35 p.m.

©2019 Chicago Tribune
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