Victoria County Sheriff's Deputy Bryan Simons was sitting in a computer lab in 1999 when his teacher turned their attention to the TV.

At a Colorado high school that looked a lot like his in Eagle Pass, two teens fatally shot 13 people and injured 20 others before taking their own lives.

His mouth hung open in shock. Years earlier, this part of Colorado had been identified as one of the safest places in the nation, he said.

"Statistically, a higher percentage of incidents occur in semi-rural communities with a population density of about 100,000 to 150,000. Victoria County is semi-rural. We have a population of almost 100,000, so do the math," Simons said. "It can happen anywhere."

Friday, the Victoria County Office of Emergency Management, the Victoria County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Victoria police and fire departments converged on Cade Middle School to prepare for the worst.

There, an actor wearing a blue Hawaiian shirt and a floppy hat pretended to shoot students inside.

The first deputies to arrive on scene brandished their firearms and cautiously approached the school in tight formation.

Others ran in afterward, and then officers wearing camouflage, vests and helmets barreled out of a mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicle.

Radio traffic indicated they were surprised inside. They didn't know going into the drill that they would be confronted with a second shooter.

Afterward, the officers carried some of the students outside on stretchers. Some woke up at dawn to get into their parts.

Their shirts were sprayed with fake blood. Makeup artists created gunshot wounds on some of their chests, and one actor looked as if he had lost his arm.

As the first responders treated them and transported them to DeTar Hospital Navarro and Citizens Medical Center, which were also testing their capacity in a mass casualty event, Simons reflected on his 14 years in law enforcement, six of which he spent as a school resource officer.

Watching everyone come together made him hopeful and inspired, he said.

"My heart is really about safety for the kids," he said. "This is personal for me. I've been asking for something like this for a couple of years, and I'm glad we were able to make it happen."

Afterward, everyone sat down at a table to discuss what they did right and wrong.

Rick McBrayer, Victoria County's emergency management coordinator, said they talked with Victoria ISD about how to more quickly determine who was in their schools and where. Overall, he said, the agencies will continue to work on communicating better.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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