Prevention of Active Shooter Tragedies

“What sent me over the top was the church shooting. And my hollow point bullets have the victims’ initials on them.”
“I’ve been a human powder keg for a while….just waiting to go BOOM.”
These quotes are from a 23 page manifesto faxed to ABC News in the wake of the on air shooting of a reporter and her cameraman in Virginia.  We now live in a world in which there is a very real and terrifying possibility that an active shooter event may happen to any one of us, at any time.  In the light of the most recent events to happen in Indiana, Texas, and Florida, I thought it might be good to take a second and talk about a point that everyone seems to be missing here… prevention.  
For almost two years, Vester Lee Flanagan II, known on air as local reporter Bryce Williams, plotted and trained.  He even learned from and modeled techniques and equipment used in the Virginia Tech shooting to plan his revenge on individuals he considered racist and that treated him unfairly. Upon being terminated from WDBJ, a news station in Virginia, he reportedly handed the manager a wooden cross, and said “you’re gonna need this”.  For two years, he left a trail of indications of his intent, from gun purchases to social media rants and threats. Tragically, none of these were investigated or followed up on.
RUN, HIDE, FIGHT.  These words are as known today as the words Duck and Cover were for my parents’ generation.  Having a good response plan is excellent for any public, private, or educational facility, and unfortunately is now necessary.  However, I would offer that when the first gunshot is heard, it is far too late. Regardless of how robust your response protocol may be, in my opinion, the response alone is an indication of a greater failure to prevent.  Unless we are talking about hybrid targeted violence, which occupy a very slim minority of active shooter events, there is period of very noticeable and investigative pre-incident indicators that oftentimes go missed.
Threat Investigation and Threat Mitigation should be words that are at the top of every meeting agenda for every School Board, Executive Committee, or Human Resources meeting about to happen.  Time and resources should be prioritized and allocated to incorporate these practices into everyday life. Nearly every potential active shooter event could be stopped before a magazine gets loaded through the use of them.  
Think of an active shooter event as a fire.  Anyone that has ever tried to light a fireplace or a campfire without the use of gasoline knows that it’s actually kind of a pain in the rear!  There is a process that needs to be followed before you’ll be enjoying hot dogs and s’mores. You first need to get some tinder, second kindling, third fuel (logs).  THEN you need to set it all up nice and neatly so the tinder will catch the kindling, then throw in a spark or flame and add the logs to slowly build a roaring fire. Same is true with an active shooter.  
Following the metaphor, let’s look at how this scenario could play out:

The Tinder:

He / she is a student at school, and is getting picked on everyday verbally.  

The Kindling:

The verbal insults have progressed to pushing and shoving in the hallway, and sometimes slapping and punching.

The Fuel:

The bullying has now gone to social media, and the physical bullying has intensified.  He / she got the courage to bring this to the attention of a faculty member, but the faculty member brushed it off or told them to “toughen up”.

The Ignition Source:

He / she asked their crush to go to prom with an elaborate presentation, and was rejected in front of the whole school…..which was also videoed and uploaded to social media as it was happening.    

The Fire:

He / she arrived at school this morning with their father’s hunting rifle and pistol.  He/she opened fire in the cafeteria at lunch and killed 7 students, 1 faculty member, and then turned the gun on themself.  Counted amongst the dead are the students that were known to be bullies, one student that was recently asked to prom by the shooter, and a faculty member that was approached by the shooter a week prior to the event. When interviewed, a student stated that on the day that the shooter’s prom rejection was posted to social media, the shooter could calmly stated “you’ll all be sorry” and walked out motioning with their hand in a shooting manner to nearby students.
This scenario, while very basic in nature, is a pretty accurate representation of how a school shooting could play out.  The good news is that just like a fire, if you catch an active shooter or other violent event early enough, it can be extinguished.  In the scenario, there were several areas in which faculty or student body members could have intervened to prevent the tragedy.
In the early stages, a faculty member could have noticed that the shooter was being bullied, and intervened and involved other faculty members or school administration to end it.  At the very least, the faculty member could have reached out to the shooter and asked if they were ok, or if they needed help.
Going further, proactively monitoring social media could have alerted parents or faculty members to the fact that the bullying had intensified.  Additionally, if students have been given adequate training or familiarization on bullying and that it is ok to say something if they witness it, there is another avenue of prevention.  Also, at this stage it would be clear that the shooter would have been acting differently or socially withdrawn, and given the proper support or channels to follow, a faculty member could have gotten involved.  
Finally, there was a clear and overt threat made to the students by the shooter on the day of the social media video posting.  This was the final straw for the shooter, and should have been the day that law enforcement was contacted for follow up. An overt threat of this nature should never be overlooked or dismissed, and should be followed to a conclusion every time.  
This was just a quick, down and dirty scenario to illustrate how good Threat Investigation and Mitigation policies and procedures can deter, detect, delay, and prevent these situations from ever happening.  
There is a very fine line between an otherwise sane individual saying “I remember I was in a very dark place back then and I am very thankful that my guidance counselor reached out and got me the help I needed”; or the same individual writing in a diary found in their room,  “They never saw me, they never helped me, they never cared…..they will see me, they will remember me, and they will care tomorrow”.
There needs to be planning and protocols for threats to be investigated.  Follow up needs to happen. It is incumbent upon any organization’s leadership to provide individuals in their care with robust policy and procedures to report, document, investigate, and follow to a conclusion any threat or intimidation that is made.    
Thank you for taking the time to educate yourself on some of the most simple aspects of prevention. For more information or to see how OPS can help your organization focus on both prevention and response to an active shooter event, visit us here at We help write policies and procedures as well as provide training for schools, religious establishments, campuses, corporations, small and large companies and residential properties all over the region.
Oh, and because that was such a serious topic, here’s a link to a video of tiny hamsters eating burritos….enjoy!

For more information and blogs visit  Take care, stay safe and thanks for reading.

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