The names are synonymous with terror, fear and anger across America: Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Conn., where 20 young children and six adults were gunned down Dec. 14, 2013; Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Va., where 32 died on April 16, 2007; Columbine High School, Littleton, Colo., where 12 students and one teacher were murdered April 20, 1999.
There also have been mass shootings in malls, post offices, restaurants, military installations, salons and movie theaters, but Americas schools have increasingly been targeted by mass killers. How should teachers, students and administrators react when they learn of a potentially violent classmate or when a gunman invades the campus? Mike Rayfield, a retired FBI agent with 25 years experience, recently spoke to 100 members of the Sacramento FBIs Citizens Academy on how to prepare for worst-case scenarios.
Rayfield, now a private investigator and security consultant with Solution Six:8, still conducts SWAT training along with active shooter tactics and awareness to police officers and educators through the nonprofit Public Safety Training Institute. He said the U.S. Secret Services National Threat Assessment Center has studied 37 school shootings involving 41 attackers over a 10-year period and thats by no means all of them.
Whats going on?
There are more active shooters now than 20 years ago. A lot of people have been desensitized through video games or movies like Natural Born Killers. Some of the video games actually teach the correct way to handle and shoot firearms. Its very bizarre, you get more points for head shots than body shots. If you read the Sandy Hook report, most of the victims were also shot in the head. You have a dynamic of people who are socially isolated or marginalized with easy access to guns. Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza and his mother who he also killed went to the shooting range together. Most of the guns used in mass shootings were not illegal.
What can schools and businesses do?
The keys to prevention are awareness, preparation and response. Prior to most incidents, the attacker told someone about his plan, or his behavior caught the attention of more than one person. In almost half the cases, friends or fellow students influenced or encouraged the attacker bullying often played a key role in the decision to attack. More than 75 percent of attackers tried to kill themselves or threatened to commit suicide before their attacks. Others tried to buy weapons or posted disturbing thoughts online. But in most cases there were signs that nobody reported. People are often scared to report for fear of retribution, or of being sued if nothing comes of it. When were talking about schools and juveniles, it gets very sensitive. Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommend laws providing limited liability for citizens who report indicators of potentially violent behavior.
Is there a best-case scenario?
David Ming Lee was arrested by a campus police officer at Folsom Lake College on Oct. 25, 2012, with a loaded Glock pistol two days after students in his economics class reported seeing him with a bulge on his hip. And a teacher had made a conduct referral about racist violent writings. Lee had posted Facebook pictures pointing a handgun and assault rifle titled Game Over and Time Bomb. Four days after the Virginia Tech shooting, when he was 15, he said, someone needs to break the record of 33 people. So five years before he did anything, hed been talking about it, writing about it, drawing pictures and posting on social networks. His mother told authorities, He sometimes gets angry and threatens to kill himself. (In March, Lee was sentenced to five years in custody.) If youve got a suspicious student, why not check his Facebook? If you find something, call the school resource officer and local police.
How can schools protect themselves?
Practice vigilance if you see something suspicious, say something. Contact your local law enforcement agency to come out and conduct regular scenario-based training, and know how it intends to respond. Police may tell school officials, We want color-coded window covering. If you lock down a classroom, we want purple, which means everybodys OK. Pink covering means I have an injured person in here. The first arriving officers arent there to rescue anybody, theyre there to deal directly with the shooter. Very few schools have threat assessment teams or plans for prevention. Kids might be arrested or suspended for violent tendencies, but what happens next?
What can teachers and school administrators do if an attack occurs?
You can run, hide or fight. Know whether your classroom doors swing in or out. Can they be barricaded with a desk? Do the doors have windows that can be shot through, and do the windows have covers so no one can see in, so maybe the shooter thinks its an empty classroom? Cover windows and close blinds or curtains. Have a plan your students will look to you for direction. Tell them to be quiet and calm, stay low to the ground and spread out. Kaitlin Roig, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook, rushed 15 small kids into a tiny bathroom and told them, Its gonna be OK, show me your smile. Kids were crying while she heard gunfire in the hallway, and she held their faces and said, I love you. Were not going anywhere until someone good gets us out. (Roig and her students survived).
Know where the threat is, know your escape routes, leave belongings behind and keep hands visible so responding law enforcement can see them. If you have no other options, be prepared to fight, like Tod Beamer on United Flight 93, who came up with a plan and said Lets roll! to attack the 9/11 hijackers whod taken over the plane. Use blunt objects like fire extinguishers, baseball bats, chairs, trash cans or a three-hole punch.
Call The Bees Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Researcher Pete Basofin contributed to this report.