NORTH ADAMS -- An off-duty North Adams Police officer was taken hostage by a woman in a black ski mask, demanding $100,000 in cash and a helicopter, outside of Sullivan Elementary School on Monday afternoon.
Holding a chisel to the neck of off-duty Police Officer Greg Onorato, the assailant barked orders at science teacher James Holmes and the 20 students in his after-school forensics class, as she waited for her demands to be met.
"You don't have to do this," Holmes said, pleading with the woman to let Onorato go.
Within minutes, city officers assigned to the Berkshire County Special Response Team rolled onto the scene in its special armored vehicle and had the woman in custody.
Although the hostage situation wasn't real -- it was a mock presentation put together for the after-school program -- officers Onorato, Tony Beverly and Zachary Wood treated it as if it were.
The demonstration went as far as having Beverly pop out of the top of the armored vehicle with an AR-15 rifle, which was trained on the "assailant," Sheri Little, who teaches the after-school program with Holmes.
"The guys are really good to us," Holmes said. "We work with the North Adams police and fire departments and the state police. They all volunteer their time when they're here. We like to do one cool thing a year with the after-school program. Last year, it was a search-and-rescue mission. The year before, it was a ‘murder' investigation in the woods.
Now in its third year, the after-school forensics class remains as popular as ever, drawing about 20 to 25 students for the 26-week program.
"We sneak in the academics without them knowing," he said. "Just about everything we do is tied to the state curriculum frameworks. We continue to do the program because the kids love it and because it helps them see the police in a better light."
When the mock hostage situation concluded, the sixth- and seventh-graders in the class were able to get a first-hand look at the armored vehicle and the tools used by the officers, including the AR-15 rifle.
"This is what you see in every video game you play," Beverly said, as several boys in the class looked through the rifle's scope.
Wood, who has been a member of the Special Response Team since 2006, explained that the SRT Armored Vehicle was bullet-proof down to its tires.
"You can ride for 50 miles with a bullet in one of them," he said.
"We've been very lucky, though. We've never been shot at. All of our situations have been resolved before it's escalated to that point."
When asked by one of the students what the worst situation they've seen in North Adams was, Wood replied that it would have to be an attempted bank robbery on Main Street three years ago.
"But you know who handled that? Local patrolmen," he said. "They received a 911 call and five minutes later were tackling the guy on the sidewalk. They were closer and so they responded first. Now that we have a truck here in the city and four city officers who are assigned to the SRT, our response will be better."
Beverly added, "It's not about who's better than the other. It's about getting the job done. We just happen to be trained in specialty areas. We train for about five hours every Wednesday."
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