Columbine. Aurora. Sandy Hook. The Pulse.
Story: Leigh Neely
There’s no need to explain these words. As you read them, pictures of horror, grief, and death come to mind in an instant. Shooters, mass homicide, and terror that stays with you for years.
According to a recent FBI study, this type of shooting has occurred in 40 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The date that sticks in the minds of those who live in Central Florida is June 12, 2016, when a security guard killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at The Pulse Nightclub in Orlando.
Lt. Ralph McDuffie, of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, says people look at incidents like this and say, “Our world is falling apart.” The seasoned SWAT commander says that just isn’t true. In 1997, an ancient mass grave was uncovered by archaeologists that contained the bones of about 100 people, all of whom died grisly deaths.
“Mass homicides have been happening from the beginning,” McDuffie says. “It’s just that we have 24-hour access to the world now, and we know everything that’s going on.”
Most people think the tragedy at Columbine High School was the first mass murder of school children. Again, not true.
In 1927, a farmer and treasurer of the local school board blew up his home and outbuildings and then set off bombs at Bath School, killing his wife, 38 children, and 5 other adults. He waited nearby in a truck until first responders were helping the survivors and then detonated dynamite to kill himself/herself and several others. Most likely the news of this event barely made it outside of Michigan.
“I do training for large groups of people—the Department of Children and Families, the staff in all these nearby government buildings, and large faith-based organizations—and I tell them all the world is not in any worse shape than it has ever been,” McDuffie says. “We just know about everything that happens now as soon as it happens.”
McDuffie also notes it is usually an American who carries out these attacks, not a foreign-born person. “I don’t call them ‘active shooters,’” he says bluntly. “I call them ‘active killers’ because they come into a place planning to kill as many people as they can before they kill themselves or are stopped.”
According to an FBI study, “active shooter” is a term used by law enforcement to describe a situation in which a shooting is in progress and an aspect of the crime may affect protocols used in responding to and reacting at the scene of the incident.” This means the “active” suspect indicates that not only can law enforcement personnel affect what eventually happens but private citizens may play a part in it too.
Homeland Security has several resources for private citizens including downloadable pocket cards, “Active Shooter Event Quick Reference Guide” and “Active Shooter Booklet” to read and study.
“The booklet Homeland Security puts out has all the correct information for individual survivability,” McDuffie says. “It’s the same information we deliver to government employees, private sector businesses, and faith-based groups. This is the acceptable protocol for all government buildings.”
It sounds so simple: run, hide, fight. But it’s not simple at all, of course. When you’re in the midst of a desperate situation, it’s difficult to think clearly and act accordingly. However, if you’re aware of these steps and have prepared your brain to respond in that way, it may be your key to survival.
There is also a video from Homeland Security available on YouTube.com that demonstrates what employees should do when an active shooter situation occurs in the workplace. “This was filmed in Houston and was professionally done,” McDuffie says. “I think it’s one of the best resources there is. It’s only five minutes long, but it’s effective and makes a difference.”
McDuffie says experts have found that generally the shooter follows four distinctive steps in every situation: the idea, the plan, preparation, and action. All of this occurs after a life crisis puts the shooter in the frame of mind to do something that makes a big impact and ensures people remember the event for many years. McDuffie estimates these predictors occur in more than 90 percent of incidents.
The first stage is when the idea occurs to the individual and develops after they have decided to use violence to accomplish a goal. The second stage is planning—naming the specific group; setting a date, time, location; and planning a route. Third is the preparations stage, where materials are gathered and practice begins, whether it’s building bombs, learning to load guns rapidly, or engaging the help of someone else. After this is done, others may notice a period of peaceful silence from the individual. The fourth stage is when the planned event occurs with the intent to inflict as much death and damage as possible.
Most people believe that someone who can carry out an act of such violence is a sociopath or psychopath. Again, McDuffie says that’s just not true. “Only one person has been deemed a sociopath—Eric Harris from Columbine. He drug [Dylan] Klebold down with him because Klebold was having lady problems.”
When doing his presentations, McDuffie stresses how important it is to be aware of what’s going on around you in your day-to-day work world. “If you hear a coworker say, ‘I hate my boss. I’d love to kill him,’ don’t let that pass without doing something,” McDuffie says. “It’s not normal for people to say that. Go to Human Resources or if it’s a small business, go to your boss. There may not be a need to fire the employee, but this is definitely a situation that should be dealt with immediately.”
This coincides with the Homeland Security directive seen in airports and other transportation facilities: “If you see something. Say something.” Knowledge is power in this situation as in any other. Make people aware of anything that leaves you feeling uneasy or frightened.
It’s also important for businesses to conduct training exercises so people automatically respond in the proper way. Know where to go so you can get out of the shooter’s path in the quickest manner.
“Wherever I am, I’m aware of exits and ways people can come in,” McDuffie says. “Like most law enforcement personnel, I won’t sit with my back to a door. I need to know how to get to safety quickly.”
Many people are aware of an incident in an internet café in Ocala where an armed elderly man shot two would-be robbers. When the robbers made their threats, some customers tried to hide, others simply sat and waited. Without warning, the elderly man stood, pulled his gun out, and shot the first robber. The second one ran, but the old man was able to shoot him too. Though both would-be thieves escaped, they were eventually arrested and charged with attempted armed robbery and felony criminal mischief. The customer who fired at the men had a concealed weapon permit and was not charged with any crime.
McDuffie strongly believes in the right to bear arms. “I’m a second amendment guy. I really am. My daughters both shoot,” he says. “I have a 14-year-old and an 11-year-old, and they both shoot.”
Joseph Steed of Clermont routinely teaches firearms classes at Joseph Steed’s Archery and Firearms, LLC. He also provides advice on what to do in active shooter situations.
“Panic and anger are emotions that short-circuit the thought processes, which needs to be avoided in times of threat and danger,” Steed says. “Remain calm and in control, which I know is easier said than done. However, there is hope. Actively practicing remaining calm during traffic jams or composing yourself when you are cut off in traffic makes you aware.”
He goes on to say it also helps to practice remaining calm with your children, spouse, your employer, clients, or coworkers when they get on your last nerve. This type of practice serves you well.
“Most active shooter incidents occur in well-lit, open areas with crowds of people. Think malls, outdoor gatherings, schools, churches—in these scenarios be aware of all exits before trouble starts,” Steed says. “Don’t try to exit the same way the aggressor came in. Have a backup-planned exit. This only requires a quick visual assessment upon entering.”
To be able to carry a weapon in public areas, you will need to take a Florida Concealed Weapons and Firearms License Training class. This four-hour class is required before you can apply for a concealed/carry license in this state. It involves three hours of classroom instruction and one hour of range instruction and qualification. Joseph Steed is one of several instructors in the area. He also teaches a two-hour class on handgun marksmanship as well as a class on handgun safety and orientation.
The number of incidents is staggering, and the battle over gun control is debated daily. Second amendment rights are extremely important to Americans, though some would like to see more thorough background checks.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. However, preparing yourself and knowing ahead of time what you would do in an active shooter situation is definitely a step in the right direction.
“Run, Hide, Fight” Homeland Security Video
Good practices for coping with an active shooter situation:
• Be aware of your environment and any possible dangers
• Take note of the two nearest exits in any facility you visit
• If you are in an office, stay there and secure the door
• If you are in a hallway, get into a room and secure the door
• As a last resort, attempt to take the active shooter down. When the shooter is at close range and you cannot flee, your chance of survival is much greater if you try to incapacitate him/her.
CALL 911 WHEN IT IS SAFE TO DO SO!
Recommendations from Joseph Steed
• Create distance between yourself and the trouble as quickly as possible.
• If the aggressor is moving away from you, stay put and allow him/her to create the distance.
• Seek cover—tables, chairs, corners, nooks, lockable rooms, especially with secondary exits, automobiles, buildings–anything to break the visual line between you and the shooter.
• Allow conditions to dictate your actions. You may seek cover before creating distance.
• If you choose to fight with a firearm, remember, you own every bullet you shoot. Injury to a bystander is your responsibility.
• If you are not sure your can stop the aggressor, it’s probably best not to fire your gun.