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Response was quick, professional, certain

No one can say with certainty what would have happened had Hancock County sheriff’s deputies not reacted as they did to “shots fired” calls Wednesday night.

One woman was fatally shot, and three others were wounded by a gunman, however — so what did occur was bad enough.

Had the alleged killer not been stopped when he was, the toll could have been worse.

Deputies responding to a call found a woman shot to death in a rural area along Judge Drive, near New Manchester. Reacting to another call, they found three other people, one of them a woman shot in the abdomen, in a residence off state Route 8 near Oak Glen High School.

Only about half an hour after receiving the first call, law enforcement officers spotted a vehicle driven by a suspect in both shootings, on Locust Hill Road.

The decision — absolutely correct, given the circumstances — was made to apprehend him through what Hancock County Sheriff Ralph Fletcher called a “forced stop.”

After his pickup truck crashed into a house, officers opened fire on the suspect and wounded him. He was taken to a hospital in Pittsburgh.

Events that evening alarmed many people in the area, in part because of precautionary steps taken by the authorities. One of them was locking down Oak Glen High School, with members of the Oak Glen and Steubenville Big Red girls soccer teams and their parents trapped inside.

But consider what happened. As Fletcher and Chief Deputy Art Watson emphasized, reaction to the situation was something of an all-hands-on-deck scenario. In addition to Hancock County deputies, others from Brooke County responded. So did West Virginia State Police, and municipal police from Weirton, Chester, New Cumberland and even East Liverpool. West Virginia Department of Natural Resources officers and agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives joined them.

All law enforcement personnel “have trained together in the past,” Fletcher said, adding that, “They stepped up and did what they were trained to do, which is go toward the sounds of the bullets …”

Not all such episodes end as quickly as the one in Hancock County, sadly. And, again, what did happen was bad enough.

But the massive, effective, coordinated — and courageous — reaction by law enforcement officers, deputies and agents sounds very much like a textbook lesson in how to address “active shooter” emergencies.

This, however, was no textbook. It was a very real peril faced by our neighbors, who have reason to reflect that they can rely on those sworn to serve and protect them. That provides a type of reassurance that, in this day and age, is precious.

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