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“IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?”

- by Paul J. Mendofik

Beslan, Russia September 1-3, 2004.

One of the most horrific acts of School Violence seen by the world in modern times:

A trained group of Chechen separatists, armed with explosives and other weapons took control of the Beslan School corralling over 1,000 children and adults. This act of Terrorism cost the lives of more than 300 children and left countless secondary victims and others living with the emotional memory.

Over the three days of the stand-off people were tortured, murdered and raped. They were deprived of food and because of the oppressive heat, drank their own urine to quench their insatiable thirst.

When an explosive device unintentionally detonated, the Terrorists believed an assault had taken place. They began killing more of their captives. Russian Special Forces took intervening action and for hours, engaged in a firefight that displayed the untold sacrifices and forfeiture of Warrior lives to save as many of the children as possible.

Living the Spetsnaz credo,“If not me, then who?”, some forfeited their life.

Thanks to John Giduck (www.antiterrorism.org) we have as factual an account of this tragedy as can be publicly released.

Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado, September 28, 2006.

Duane Morrison, 53 years of age, enters Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado. Dressed in a hooded sweat-shirt and jeans he proceeds through the school with purpose. An alert student goes to the administrative office and warns of this individual who “does not seem like he belongs here”. Upon entering Room 206 he displays a handgun and orders all males to exit the room. When one male refuses, he points the weapons in his direction and states he will kill him if he refuses. After the male departs, the female teacher refuses to leave when instructed to do so. Morrison fires a shot into the ceiling to demonstrate his resolve. The female teacher departs and rushes to alert the administrative office.

Law enforcement responders arrive within minutes only to be confronted by Morrison using several of the female students as human shields. A stand-off begins as additional resources begin to arrive. In total, nearly 300 personnel will be on scene to aid the Park County Sheriffs Office.

Over the next four hours, he will sexually assault a number of the six, 16 and 17 year old hostages. As negotiations play out, four of the girls will be released. Morrison will also claim he has explosives with him and he will detect the sounds of special units trying to obtain a tactical advantage and intelligence.

As a deadline approaches and a rescue-entry plan is made the officers outside of the room report screams coming from the remaining females. The rescue-entry order is given and multiple entries occur simultaneously.

During the ensuing exchange of fire Morrison fatally wounds seventeen year old Emily Keyes before he is killed by law enforcement.

A community is experiencing a tragedy. The students, faculty and support staffs are in shock. The assembled parents and loved ones are both relieved and in mourning.

Midland, Michigan March 7, 2007

She had been dropped off at school that morning by her mother who was still in the parking area as her 17 year old daughter entered the school. Her 17 year old boyfriend was not allowed to enter the school. As he tried to do so, he was turned away by alert school officials.

Outside, in the parking lot, he would call her cell phone convincing her to exit the safety of the school. As she approached, her mother would watch in bewilderment. The teen would pull a handgun from his backpack, shooting the girl four times before taking his own life. Her mother would make a valiant intervention effort to save her daughters life by driving her car between the two. The female victim would survive.

Foss High School, Tacoma, Washington, January 3, 2007

Shortly after returning to school from Christmas break a seventeen year old is shot in the hallway.

Weston, Wisconsin September 29, 2006

A disgruntled young 15 year old would come into the Weston High School armed with a shotgun. Realizing the danger to the student body, Principal John Klang puts his life at risk to intervene. As he tried to disarm the 15 year old, he would be killed by the shotgun blast. Others would overpower and disarmed him prior to the law enforcement response.

Tampa, Florida, May 21, 2006

Two Saudi men board a school bus, raising suspicion and response by various law enforcement authorities including the FBI.

Another time, in Hoboken New Jersey, a 48 year old school administrator is killed by a man who mistakenly believed his wife was having an affair with him.

These are only a few illustrations of the more than four-hundred deaths which have occurred in schools in the United States and school related Terrorism occurring in other countries. While these domestic incidents are a statistically snapshot of events recorded by the National School Safety Center (www.nssc1.org) since 1992, they illustrate a lethal threat that continues to face us. Truly the likelihood of such an event is minimal but the consequences are catastrophic. Who wants to be the School Administrator, law enforcement head or government official that has to acknowledge, “It happened here.”

Who are these persons who take lives in and around our schools? There have been events that have involved adults, juveniles, males and females. Some have been staff, others have been community members. Some have been students and some have been gang members. The most notorious attackers have been connected with the targeted school and frequently are students.

Examining the attacker information we find the predominant student characteristic to be a white male, 14-17 years of age, family living above the poverty line, suburban school district. He is often of low self-esteem, has a close circle of friends whom he narcissistically manipulates to enhance his ego and aid him in bringing his aggressive plans to fruition. He is likely not to be involved in “team” functions (i.e.: sports; band) or community volunteer activities. He has likely experienced bullying and becomes resentful of the “haves”…have stuff and have attention.

The victims of such carnage are both male and female. Pertaining to student victims, we find no gender predominance. Frequently, Administrators (principals, vice-principals) are either targeted or attempt to intervene. When this occurs, the predominant victim gender is male. Faculty also becomes subjected to the violence of these offenders. The predominant faculty gender is female.

There is statistical gender predominance in school administration and faculty. This may account for some of the victim data. Also a phenomenon associated with nurturing and intervention may place faculty at greater risk as they take action to diffuse an event.

Weapons can be configured from anything. The school attacker may utilize an edged weapon, blunt object or other instrument. However, he is most likely to utilize a firearm - their preference being a handgun or a shotgun. The shotgun of choice is a 12 gauge pump-action model. Explosives may be used as a threat but are rarely a reality…at this time.

Human behavior is often predictable and based on learned outcomes resulting from actions taken. Some have dubbed it “criminal profiling” others have called it invasions of privacy. But patterns of action are often the result of positive stimuli (rewards) that foster repeat behavior or reinforcement of motivation to enhance the behavior (“pushing the envelope”). It can have a positive or negative impact on the affected individuals in that sphere.

The FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education have taken a proactive step in trying to identify the potential school attacker. There are a number of behavioral characteristics common among offenders but patterns are not sufficient to determine a “profile”.

The research also indicates a number of myths exist pertaining to those who would carry out such acts. The uninformed will often miss indicators or signs. In most of the attacks, there have been plans and others have been aware of pending overt acts. In western culture there exists a society where entertainment sources script us to believe forensic evidence solves homicides in an hour and special weapons abound to neutralize threats in minutes. These school violence events rarely last longer than fifteen minutes once they begin. It is more likely a School Resource Officer (SRO) or the first available law enforcement officers are going to be engaging the threats.

When we are trained and aware, proactive intervening action can be a significant step in reducing the casualties. Establish a survival philosophy to enhance your capability to assess the level of threat and what defensive actions are required. Get serious about emergency planning. Follow the guidelines of multi-hazard crisis plans promulgated by the U.S. Department of Education. Train like it is for real because it just might be someday. Don’t let yourself be an ostrich and say it will not happen here. It has happened more than four-hundred times in fifteen years. Stay current and revise or update plans and protocols.

How physically secure is your facility? Because planning is usually involved, overt deterrent means can send a message to the attacker that success may not be possible. Features such as keeping doors locked, except through limited entry points. Any open access area must be monitored by someone. That individual needs the authority to mandate identification and compliance with movement within. Without a means to announce an alarm for non-compliance, their responsibility is usurped. These entry points will be further enhanced if aided by electronic monitoring. Even if an intruder fails to comply with access controls, the recorded entry image will aid greatly in verifying the legitimacy of that persons access.

Other physical features will aid emergency responders as well. In conjunction with proper authority develop a numbering system for doors, windows, basement’s and roof portals. Jointly examine the dynamics of after hour’s events, such as social functions and sporting events. Pre-designate staging areas and approach routes.

Evacuation and assembly areas are frequently assigned based on convenience more than crisis considerations. If your plan has not taken into consideration the differences between a fire event, hazardous device event, armed intruder event or weather event then your planning may not be adequate. It is difficult to establish multiple evacuation/assembly protocols so partner up with your appropriate emergency responder. You may be able to establish one or two protocols that will meet most of your crisis reasons to evacuate. Remember, various factors effect who may be executing your evacuation signal. So, use the K.I.S.S. principle…Keep It Short and Simple.

Lastly we have to build confidence sufficient to allow for flexibility. These situations do change. They are dynamic. A plan is the predicted to be the most effective way to address the crisis but, an unknown may be thrown into the mix. People need to realize that and feel confident enough that they can make a decision and have the commitment to act upon that.

If we have believe this crisis can come to our school, then we will desire to be prepared. If we desire to be prepared, we will train and learn effective strategies to intervene or mitigate the event. So when we train and learn, we will contribute to reducing the likelihood that such events happen where we are. Because, “If not me, then who.”

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