Officials at Penn-Trafford High School in Harrison City, Pennsylvania are scrambling to explain why students in the school’s audio-visual department created a “racist” training video for school shootings.
Controversy erupted in the community after students involved with the project posted the video to Facebook, where folks raged over the shooter in the video wearing a scarf on his head, which some alleged was meant to depict the shooter as Muslim, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
Members of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh were “appalled and saddened” by the video, board secretary Elaine Linn said.
“To stereotype the shooter is appalling given the data on active shooters and the recent shootings at the Tree of Life and Christ Church,” she wrote in an email to the Post-Gazette. “The action of Penn-Trafford puts our community of over 10,000 Muslims in the greater Pittsburgh area in great harm.”
Many others raged online or in the media, including Harrison City resident Jim Atkins.
“It shouldn’t be profiling somebody like that,” he told CBS Pittsburgh.
“I just thought that maybe they could have used a normal person not to offend anyone. Like, you could have used anyone. You didn’t have to dress him up,” Penn-Trafford junior Trinity Garbacz said. “I could’ve done it, you could’ve done it. It doesn’t have to be a certain religion or race or anything like that.”
School officials explained in a statement that the video wasn’t intended to convey the shooter as any certain religion or race or anything like that. But folks were offended nonetheless.
The video depicts an active shooter drill at the school in January, when an unidentified staffer who played the shooter dressed in a blonde wig and paintball mask, blue hoodie and a purple scarf wrapped around his head.
The drill was conducted as security training by Command Excellence, a private company that provided a bag of props to disguise participants. Students with the audio-visual department recorded the training, the Post-Gazette reports.
“These volunteers were provided costumes and accessories by the consultant group to alter their appearance so that they were not readily recognizable by their co-workers,” a district statement read.
John Sakoian, president of Command Excellence, said the pretend shooter took it upon themselves to don the scarf, which he described as something “somebody would wear on a motorcycle.”
“He completely, innocently converted it to that,” Sakoian said. “It’s not a Muslim headdress. It was a neck scarf.”
That’s essentially the same message district officials are attempting to explain to locals “appalled” by the video.
“This unofficial release of the video has caused some in the community to question the District’s actions in performing the drill. … The Active shooter drill conducted at (Penn-Trafford) did not intend to represent any particular culture or religion as the shooters,” the statement read.
“They’re good people,” Sakoian said of the roughly 350 people who participated in the active shooter drill. “Nobody tried to do anything to offend anybody. The drills are not meant to identify any race or religion or creed of people.”
The incident occurred about a year after the nearby North Allegheny School District ended work with the security training firm INPAX over allegedly Islamophobic social media posts by the company’s founder, according to the Post-Gazette.