Arab headdress in Penn-Trafford school shooter training video criticized |

Arab headdress in Penn-Trafford school shooter training video criticized

Megan Tomasic
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Several Penn Trafford School District alumni perceived a video of an active shooter drill at the high school as racist.
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Several Penn Trafford School District alumni perceived a video of an active shooter drill at the high school as racist.
Screen grab
Several Penn Trafford School District alumni perceived a video of an active shooter drill at the high school as racist.
Tribune-Review file photo
Penn Trafford High School

Several Penn-Trafford School District alumni are up in arms over a perceived racist video of an active shooter drill at the high school.

The video, posted on Twitter, shows a man — who some believe was serving as the active shooter — wearing what appears to be a keffiyeh, or Arab headdress often worn by Palestinians.

The man wearing the headdress was not playing the active shooter in the Jan. 21 scenario, said John Sakoian, who runs Command Excellence, a business that conducted the active shooter drill.

“That individual was to go role play in a different scenario that we never ran, and he prematurely got into costume that was not approved and got inadvertently swept up in the first scenario,” Sakoian said, adding that the man was in a staging area waiting for the next part of the training exercise to start. “But myself and Dr. (Matthew) Harris never approved that, and it was totally accidental that this thing happened.”

Harris, the district superintendent, declined to comment and refused to give permission for the Tribune-Review to post the video.

Two teacher volunteers who had experience handling firearms were asked to portray active shooters and were given costumes and accessories by Command Excellence to make them unrecognizable by their co-workers, district officials said in a statement released on its website.

“Screen captures of the video shared on social media fail to show the full costume worn by the volunteer,” the statement reads. “The individual wore a long blonde wig with a scarf tied around his head and a paintball/tactical mask over his face. He was dressed in a dark zip-up sweatshirt and dark pants.”

Sakoian, who has worked with the district for about five years, confirmed his company does provide clothes for actors to wear but said costumes are approved before the drill starts to make sure they are appropriate. The person portraying the active shooter in the first scenario wore a wig with a scarf around his neck, Sakoian said.

The seven-minute video shows police yelling, “Show me your hands,” and pointing their weapons at the man wearing a headdress, who had his hands raised. He is later seen being led by police down a school hallway. The man wearing the wig and scarf is seen seconds later barging into a classroom holding a gun.

“I’m at a loss and somewhat disappointed that folks would take a training situation where our intents were real and honest and twist them into a situation that maybe they’re looking for,” Penn Township police Chief John Otto said. “But other than that, I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time on it.”

Otto said clips of the video circulating on social media were taken out of context, with one clip being only three seconds long.

The video generated buzz on social media, with several people commenting their disappointment in the district.

Penn Trafford alumnus Alicia McElhaney, who graduated in 2012, said the situation left her feeling sick.

“I believe it’s implied that this person is a person of color,” she said. “I think that’s wrong.”

In the future, McElhaney said she hopes those who participated in the video will participate in race sensitivity training and that the district starts teaching students about different races and cultures.

School officials said they already do.

“P-T prides itself on instilling respect for others, in its students and staff and has conducted numerous trainings on cultural diversity. … P-T students are empowered to be their authentic selves and value others,” part of its statement reads.

Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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