"There will be no new taxes, everyone here is going to vote no," one man announced as he held a gun to the head of the county finance director. One of the intruders fired into the air.
Only after some commissioners in the east Tennessee county scrambled for cover and a commotion ensued did the county's emergency management director announce it was a security drill (search). The intruders were acting. The guns were loaded with blanks.
"There is enough real terror going on," said an angry Jim Lynch, who witnessed Monday night's frantic meeting from the audience.
The sheriff, some commissioners and several members of the audience were told by Emergency Management Director Ernest Jackson there would be a drill but were not given specifics. The city police, who were called to the scene, had not been told.
"There is a time and a place for drills," Sheriff John Henson said. "This was not one of them."
Jackson was unrepentant: "We live in a different world after 9-11."
Some commissioners left the meeting looking shocked and angry. County Mayor Dale Fair, who did not know about the drill, canceled the meeting because there was no longer a quorum. Fair said he was launching an investigation.