Fifteen-year-old actor Emily Muller knew exactly what to expect -- a fake shooter would come through the school lobby and she'd pretend to be hit by gunshot in her arm.
Despite the preparation and the jovial atmosphere preceding Thursday's police training at Otter Creek Elementary School in Elgin, it all ended up feeling surprisingly realistic, said Emily, a member of Spotlight Youth Theater in Cary.
"It was scary to see the shooter firing bullets and seeing shells fall off," she said. "You don't have to act as much as you think you would. The emotions are very real."
The four-hour training was the largest ever conducted by Elgin police, Cmdr. Ana Lalley said.
It included the Elgin Fire Department, SWAT teams from Aurora and Will County, 36 fire departments from Rockford to Bartlett, the Kane County Office of Emergency Management, and about 200 role players.
For the first time, the training featured rescue task forces, or teams of Elgin firefighters/paramedics who went into the building to search for and treat victims while protected by Elgin SWAT officers.
Firefighters have been training for a year with police to implement this rescue model, based on Arlington County, Virginia, Elgin fire Capt. Robb Cagann said.
"What we're trying to do is get those people out of the building as soon as possible -- get them triaged, treated and transported to the local hospital," he said.
The initial call reported that a person exited a green Volkswagen and raced into the school, while another occupant ran away.
Shortly after, shots rang inside the school, followed by loud screaming. A few minutes later, fake gunshot victims started to stream out of a side entrance.
Erica Wiltberger and her 11-year-old son, Andy, were among the actors.
"We can teach them all we want, but until we put them in a real-life scenario, it's not the same," said Wiltberger, a teacher whose husband is an Elgin police officer.
The fake shooter was found dead within about five minutes from a self-inflicted gunshot in a second-floor classroom.
Emergency personnel worked for the next two or so hours to secure the building -- including checking lockers one by one -- and treat victims.
As they moved about, they placed glowing sticks on the floor -- green to indicate safe areas, yellow for triage victims and purple for dead bodies.
Altogether, the scenario ended up with seven dead and 47 injured.
Among the pretend dead was Andy Murphy, 15, a student at Grayslake Central High School, who lay patiently in the library. "It's a weird feeling but a cool experience," he said.
The injured were taken to Advocate Sherman Hospital and Presence St. Joseph Hospital, both in Elgin, and St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates.
Curious onlookers included Jim Lickteig, whose farm is across from the school on Hopps Road.
"I'm just taking a break to watch," he said. "It's the first time I've seen something like this."
Elgin Area School District U-46 has conducted annual training sessions with the police department since 2007. Previous drills were held at Abbott Middle School, as well as Elgin and Larkin high schools.
A command post was set up a few blocks from the school on Venice Drive, in a residential neighborhood.
Effective communication among first responders can always use fine-tuning, Elgin Assistant Fire Chief Tim Maroder said.
"These (trainings) are designed to tax us beyond our control, so it can be stressful," he said.
The goal is to assess both positives and negatives, Lalley said.
"It generally looked like this was organized," she said. "It seemed quicker than in the past."