Event goes down amidst national debate on preparation/response methods to active shooter situations
VC Star/USA Today (November 14, 2019)
When sophomore Elijah Mims, 15, performed in an active shooter training video for a class project earlier this school year, the Santa Clarita native never thought he’d actually be running for his life.
“We were just preparing for the worst, but we never thought anything would occur in a suburb like Santa Clarita. It’s such a lovely place,” Mims told USA TODAY in a phone interview.
In the instructional video, Mims played the role of a “person who was hiding,” later demonstrating to students how they could safely escape an active shooter situation. On Thursday, Mims found himself a few feet away from an armed classmate. He sprinted into an empty classroom, where he huddled quietly with dozens of other students until police entered the room.
“The video helped me out since I reacted right away and was able to do what I needed,” Mims said.
The school shooting that killed two and injured at least three people at Saugus High School Thursday comes amid a national debate around how to prepare for and respond to active shooter situations, with some schools and policymakers advocating a range of tactics — from “bulletproof backpacks” to curved hallways.
The militarization of law enforcement, sensationalized mass shooting events, and a creeping police state have merged in the now common “active shooter drills” that transpire in various public places, including schools.
Yet recent research suggests how such exercises do little in the way of preparing for mass casualty events, and instead needlessly traumatize children, in the process making an entire generation more acquiescent to state authority and control over their everyday lives.
Police officers outside of Dayton, Ohio, unsheathed their weapons and fired blanks in Franklin High School on Tuesday as part of a misguided effort to prepare students for a possible active shooter.
The planned drill unnecessarily ratcheted up the intensity of school lockdown procedures, which routinely require students and teachers to barricade themselves in their classrooms. That the exercise was potentially traumatizing was not lost on the officials who planned it, as they came equipped with “Social-Emotional Activities,” as well as counselors who could talk with any disturbed teens.
“There was a concern and it did cause some stress” among parents and students, Lt. Gerry Massey tells the Cincinnati Enquirer. Senior Samantha Earnhart, one such terrified student, said that she “became very emotional” and “started to cry” upon hearing the gunfire.
And for what? Regardless of the feverish rhetoric around school shootings, the phenomenon remains exceedingly rare.
Less rare, however, are these increasingly extreme active shooter drills.
A Champaign Illinois school district is allowing students to be excused from school to avoid experiencing “active shooter drills” held on school grounds.
“The Champaign Unit 4 Board of Education clarified how parents can opt their students out of active shooter drills” at a September 9 meeting, Illinois Public Media reports.
A new state law requires students participate in at least one active shooter drill during the first 90 days of the school year. The law allows school staff to exempt certain students from the drill at their discretion.
Unit 4 board members opted to take the advice of the district’s legal counsel, and allow parents to take their children out of school during the drills, exempt students who are already exempted from fire and tornado drills, and provide accommodations for students with individualized education plans.
School shooters represent a minuscule fraction of the risk to America’s schoolchildren. According to a 2018 Washington Post editorial, “the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000.” According to a recent article inThe Atlantic: “The Washington Post has identified fewer than 150 people (children and adults) who have been shot to death in America’s schools since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School, in Colorado. Not 150 people a year, but 150 in nearly two decades.”
Nonetheless, 96% of America’s schools conduct lockdown drills meant to protect students from active shooters. These are required by state or local law in most cases.
The inordinate attention paid to a phenomenon that represents such a tiny proportion of the danger to school kids (a drop in the bucket compared to the danger they face from car accidents for example) can only be justified if one assumes that the psychological impact of these shootings on students is disproportionately great. But what if these lockdown drills are actually what is creating most of the anxiety?
On Saturday morning, October 27, 2017, a mass shooting was reported at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill region of Pittsburgh, PA. A suspect, Robert Gregory Bowers, was apprehended at the scene, after being wounded by SWAT officers. Before he was taken into custody, Bowers is said to have killed 11 of the congregants and injured six, including four members of the SWAT team that he engaged in two separate gun battles. Bowers was allegedly armed with “an AR-15-style assault rifle,” a Glock pistol, and two other handguns.
The officers who rushed to the scene came upon Mr. Bowers as he was trying to leave the synagogue. He fired at them, injuring one officer in the hand, according to the criminal complaint. Another officer had injuries to his face from shrapnel and broken glass. Mr. Bowers then darted back inside and ran up to the third floor.
At that point, a SWAT team went in and came upon the scene of the massacre. Two people were still alive and the police carried them out. As they were searching for other victims, SWAT officers encountered Mr. Bowers, who fired at them and critically injured two officers.
The remaining officers “engaged the suspect in a gun battle in which multiple rounds were exchanged,” the criminal complaint said. At some point in the shootout, Mr. Bowers was wounded, and he eventually surrendered to the police.
Bowers reportedly entered the synagogue just before 10 am, and “the Allegheny County Emergency Operations center received calls of an active shooter at 9:54 am ET…Officers were dispatched at 9:55 am,” according to CNN. In all, Bowers is said to have been inside the synagogue for a full 20 minutes.
Blank Rounds Fired “To Expose Students to Sound of Gunfire”
Parents of children attending Bethel Park High School in southeastern Pennsylvania have protested the school and local police department’s firing of blank rounds during an active shooter drill, allegedly without the parents’ express consent.
At Bethel Park High School on Thursday, an active shooter drill is scheduled to get underway during an extended third period class.
This drill will include the sound of gunfire, but blanks will be fired, not real bullets. School Police and Bethel Park Police will conduct the exercise.
Nanette Adams has a son who just this year enrolled in the High School. She and some other parents contacted KDKA-TV News saying they were concerned about the drill; more specifically, the fact that blanks were bring used.