Report Details Confusion of Mistaken Active Shooter Response at Wright-Patterson

This photo shows damage incurred from a USAF airman's M-4 discharge at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, on Aug. 2. 88th Air Base Wing photo.

A mistaken call of an active shooter during a planned mass casualty exercise sparked a series of miscommunications and, ultimately, a security forces airman repeatedly firing his M-4 at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio, the Air Force found in a report released Wednesday.

The Aug. 2 incident began as the 88th Air Base Wing scheduled a stand-alone active shooter exercise at the base chapel at about the same time as the base medical group held a separate mass casualty exercise at the base’s hospital. While the two exercises were “socialized” between the respective units, details on the schedule and operations were not shared, according to a Command-Directed Investigation on the incident.

Confusion began during the hospital’s exercise, when a real-world 911 call came in from a jogger injured while running on the base, who was then taken to the emergency room. Simulated casualties from the hospital’s exercises were reporting at the same time as this real injury, and at the same time first responders were responding to the active shooter exercises at the chapel.

“This was the beginning of bleed over from exercise to real world events,” the investigation states, adding that at 12:38 the base defense operations center received a landline call from the hospital of a real-world active shooter event. The hospital began a “Code Silver” for an active shooter scenario and locked down, prompting another hospital employee to call 911. This prompted a “mutual aid” response with local emergency responders sent to the hospital.

Base security forces clearing the area encountere?d a locked door, and an airman fired his M-4 rifle through the window to open it. Five shots were fired, the airman sustained a minor injury, and more emergency calls reporting “shots fired” came in, causing more confusion.

Eventually, about 50 local emergency responders came into the hospital with weapons drawn, and swept the hospital room by room. Two hours after the initial call, the all clear came. The only injuries and damage came from the airman firing his weapon at the door.

The investigation provided three findings:

  1. All personnel need to be fully aware of exercises vs real-world scenarios, so coordination between all concerned organizations is “essential.”
  2. An M-4 was used to open a door, a decision that was “inappropriate,” the report states. “All personnel must adhere to weapons safety training at all times — especially during high pressure situations.”
  3. A breakdown in communication “led to a completely uncoordinated and ineffective combined response that could have resulted in serious injury or property damage,” the report states. Federal, state, and local agencies need a “thorough understanding” of jurisdiction and response procedures.