Residents say they should have been told about Army training drill involving helicopters, gunfire

January 29, 2013 3:19:26 PM PST
Loud gunfire, schools on temporary lockdown, helicopters flying overhead -- what looked like a dangerous situation Monday was actually a drill.

Residents living on the south side of Houston said the training drill took them by surprise. They had plenty of questions about the drill and so did we.

We now know this was an exercise involving the U.S. Army Special Operations Command, the Houston Police Department and other agencies. They won't tell us exactly what they were doing, only that it was some kind of exercise to help them prepare for deployment in an urban environment.

If you didn't know better you'd have thought Monday that something at the old Carnegie Vanguard School was horribly wrong. Unmarked helicopters flying low. Men in camouflage with guns. And gunfire. Or what sounded like it. Eyewitnesses say lots of gunfire.

"We didn't know so we all ran and hid. Because it sounded like the world was coming to an end," said eyewitness Yvette Cavitt.

She says she's a heart patient and that lying in a bathtub out of fear that she'd be shot didn't do much for her well-being.

"That was horrible. They should have forewarned us," Cavitt said.

Houston Council Member Wanda Adams agrees. The exercise was in her district and even she wasn't warned.

"They should have notified us on this magnitude. They should have let somebody know," said Adams.

The Houston Fire Department wasn't told; it responded to all the radio traffic about shots being fired. Even the mayor's office says it was not notified. And even though there have been reports of other police and military training exercises around the country.

The Houston Police Department refused to talk on camera, instead issuing a statement that read in part, "We apologize for the lack of communication ahead of time."

The department admits local leaders were not notified prior to the exercise. Both police and an Army representative tell Eyewitness News that they feared notifying folks ahead of time could cause panic. They also say they were trying to keep curious onlookers away and publicizing the training beforehand, they felt, could only attract attention.

But try telling that to neighbors who now struggle with how they will react the next time they see men running around with guns, not knowing if they are friend or foe.

The school is still owned by the Houston Independent School District. Even though it gave the Army permission to use the campus, apparently word did not make it to at least one nearby school, which was placed on lockdown for a portion of the school day.
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