On April 2nd, 2012, a 43 year old man named One L. Goh opened fire in a classroom at Oikos University. Mr. Goh was a former student of the college in California. His rampage resulted in seven people killed and three more wounded. Six of the seven victims killed were women. Most had been shot at point-blank range.
This was a tragic event, but it is not unprecedented and is likely to happen again. Students, parents, police and school employees worldwide need to be prepared for such a crime to occur at anytime, anywhere. School violence is a problem everywhere and can happen in even the “best” of schools.
While it is early in the investigation, we know many of the facts surrounding yesterday’s mass killing. This school shooting has many of the same characteristics as past incidents. While it is distasteful to second-guess the actions of the victims in such a horrible atrocity, there are lessons to be learned from their tribulations.
I’ve scoured the news reports of the Oikos shooting and have condensed the relevant information into a few learning points that may be valuable to anyone who wants to better prepare for the future. I’ve illustrated the learning points by providing direct quotes from many of the people involved.
Lesson One- Students need to be taught proper responses when a person begins shooting.
In any school shooting the victims have a range of possible responses from which to consider. In my research on school shootings, the most successful student responses (ranked best to worst) are as follows:
- Lock down in a secured location
- Fight the attacker
- Reason with the attacker
- Cry, beg, plead, or submit
In the Oikos shooting, different students tried several of the above options with varying success. Let’s look at some of the quotes and analyze their responses.
“Goh forced a secretary into a classroom and asked people to line up, Jordan said. ‘Not everyone was cooperative, and that’s when he began shooting.’ The dead included six students and the secretary, he said.”- (Huffington Post)
“One Goh, 43, shot most of his victims after entering an Oikos University classroom with a hostage and ordering students to line up in a row, police said. They were shot as they begged for their lives.”- (San Francisco Chronicle)
“Then he ordered everyone to get up against a wall, and he drew a handgun. The people started running and he started shooting,” (Kansas City Star)
“Deborah Lee, who was in an English language class, said she heard five to six gunshots at first. “The teacher said, `Run,’ and we run,” she said. “I was OK…” (The Trentonian)
Here we have two initial responses: some students fled while other students complied and begged for their lives. Do you want to guess which ones had the better survival rates? The students who complied with Goh’s demands were shot point blank in the chest and head. It is reasonable to assume that these were the majority of the casualties.
There were three people injured (most with arm wounds) as they fled, but the majority who escaped were unharmed.
I see this pattern repeated in almost every school shooting. The students who escape the school by fleeing generally survive. This should be the first option in the instance of school violence. Get out! Only if you can’t flee should you consider other options.
When fleeing, it is important to pre-identify secure areas of safety. Instead of blindly fleeing the shooter (and potentially ending up in a worse spot), victims should run toward safety…preferably an area that provides protection from bullets.
“One wounded woman cowered in the bushes after the gunman opened fire on the campus of a small Christian university. One student hid in a locked classroom as the shooter banged on the door. Another heard the shots and ran to safety.”- (KRNV News)
“Art Richards said he was driving by the university on his way to pick up a friend when he spotted a woman hiding in the bushes. He pulled over, and when he approached her, she said, “I’m shot” and showed him her arm.” (Huffington Post)
“…more than a dozen students and faculty – some whom had been found cowering under desks – were evacuated by SWAT officers” (Kansas City Star)
Bushes and desks don’t provide adequate protection from bullets. The students who chose these hiding spots survived because they got lucky, not because they chose optimal hiding spots. A well prepared student or teacher will pre-identify locations of safety to which they can flee.
One brave student in the incident recognized the gunfire and quickly closed and locked the classroom door. Even though Goh fired several shots through the window in the door, he was unable to make entry and no one in the classroom was injured.
“Out of instinct, she locked the door and turned off the lights then the guy came and banged on the door and shot several rounds at the door and then he left,” Wangchuk said. “The police said what she did was heroic.” (Reuters)
The improvised version of a lockdown was effective here. The keys to its success are the fact that the lockdown was implemented quickly and the fact that the door could be locked from the inside.
While it worked well here, this option has to be placed as a lower priority than escape. Many classroom doors cannot be secured. Before implementing this response, you should know in advance whether your classroom door can be secured or not.
In a longer term event (this was over in just a few minutes), door locks are not likely to keep a determined attacker out.
I listed “Escape”, “Effective Lockdown”, and “Fighting” in that order as the best actions to take in a school shooting. While it doesn’t seem like anyone fought Mr. Goh in this instance, there were several instances (listed above) when escape and lockdown worked.
Some people might question my ranking of those three options. I often hear from school administrators (concerned about student accountability) recommend lockdown as the best choice. I often hear gun rights advocates and martial artists advocate fighting as the best option. In certain situations, both of groups of people are correct. In others, they are wrong.
I’ve studied school shootings intensively for more than 10 years. I’ve tracked which responses work and which don’t. My recommendations come from detailed analysis, not theoretical musings. Yes, lockdown can work well. But I can give you numerous examples where it failed and resulted in student and teacher deaths.
Armed resistance historically works very well in active shooter events. But how many people are armed in the average school? If we take the option of resistance with firearms out of the equation (which is a reality for the vast majority of the school population), success rates plummet. We also have to discuss the differences between elementary schools and universities. Ten strong college age males might be able to overwhelm an armed attacker, but ten disorganized 1st graders are not as likely to be successful.
Escape works better for the majority of people, and has a proven track record of effectiveness in real-life school shootings that far exceeds the record of any other option listed. I’m not saying that resistance won’t work, or that lockdown is ineffective. Both are viable responses, but their success rates vary tremendously depending on the situation.
When we look at ACTUAL past school shootings, more victims have been saved by escape than any other option. The next greatest number has been saved by an effective lockdown. Resistance is much lower on the list; primarily because the population being targeted (students and teachers) is generally unable to effectively arm themselves due to legal or liability concerns.
Lesson Two- Responding Police Officers and responding citizens need to bring tools to breach barricades on their initial approach.
“Potential victims remained inside the building trapped by a locked door which officers were unable to open,” Jordan said. Others were unable to flee because they were injured, he said.” (CBS News)
“Officers advanced into the building, concerned the gunman might still be there and facing doors barricaded by terrified students. Some officers began smashing windows to get in; a police sergeant suffered a cut requiring hospitalization.” (Kansas City Star)
“SWAT teams took position around the building, some smashing glass with sledgehammers and rushing inside as officers helped students evacuate the campus” (SF Chronicle)
In most of the recent school shootings (Virginia Tech and Nickel Mines are two prime examples), shooters have sought to increase their body counts by barricading doors to slow police response. While there is no indication that Goh employed this strategy, the “culture of lockdown” currently taught in most schools makes door breaching a mandatory activity.
Even if the shooter doesn’t employ barricading tactics, the students will. Police need to respond immediately with everything they need to breach doors. Battering rams, bolt cutters, Halligan tools, shotgun breaching rounds, and pry bars should be carried by the first responding officers. Any delay in police entry will result in more students being killed.
In addition to police being able to breach doors, there should be a protocol in place to assure barricaded students that it is truly the police on the other side of the door. Students may not willingly open barricaded doors if they believe the shooter could still be outside.
In this particular instance, I believe a language barrier (most of the students were immigrants) may have contributed to the problems identified. Schools should adopt some type of “all clear” password or announcement to facilitate rapid evacuation by police and medical personnel.
Lesson Three- Denial Kills
““‘Get in line and I’m going to kill you all,’ is what he said this morning. They thought he was joking at first.” (Sky News)
“It’s like a firework boom, boom 3 or 4 times” – (THV TV 11)
In every school shooting, students and staff initially rationalized the sounds of the gunshots as fireworks, construction noises, or balloons popping. The same thing happened in Oikos.
Students need to be able to recognize the sounds of gunshots for what they are. Even if you are not a hunter or shooter, taking your children to a public shooting range to familiarize them with the sounds of gunfire would be a good idea. Students must be taught to instantly react as soon as they hear gunfire. When they hear that sound in a school they should quickly escape via an exit in the opposite direction from the shots. Any delay in recognizing or reacting to the gunshots will likely result in a higher body count.
Lesson Four- School Shooters plan their attacks thoroughly
Shooters often make very elaborate plans before their attacks. Most have a single goal…a massive number of casualties. Planning is required to ensure that they are able to kill large numbers of people before the police arrive.
“Goh appeared to have planned the attack for several weeks” (Huffington Post)
“Goh began planning the attack sometime after his expulsion from the school in mid-January.”- (Montgomery County Herald)
This planning is often tough to conceal and may provide the best opportunity to interdict the shooter before he commences firing. Students and school staff should be alert for any indicators that someone is planning to commit a violent act in the school. Don’t believe that anyone may be just joking or physically incapable of going through with the shooting. Inform authorities immediately if you have information about the planning of a school attack.
Lesson Five- It isn’t about being bullied
The media is quick to rationalize the behavior of school shooters because they are often social outcast or targets of teasing and bullying. That characteristic is generally correct, but most shooters don’t start killing people because they were bullied. If so, they would target the bullies themselves. That seldom happens. Most shooters shoot randomly. They may start the action with the goal of killing a specific person, but they very quickly move on to the population as a whole.
“The alleged gunman told police that he “came here with the intent of locating an administrator,” (San Francisco Chronicle)
One L. Goh “then went through the entire building systematically and randomly shooting victims,” Oakland Police Chief Howard Jordan said at a news conference. Jordan, speaking early Tuesday, would not identify the administrator but did say she is not among the injured. “We don’t believe that any of the victims were the ones that teased him.” (Chico ER)
In Columbine, one of the first students killed was a boy with Down syndrome who never bullied anyone. The pattern holds true in Oikos as well. When his prime target wasn’t available, Goh quickly began shooting everyone he can.
The shooters’ motivations are seldom revenge. More often than not they crave notoriety above everything else. They want to be immortalized. We contribute to more shootings with our endless media coverage of such events. It’s my opinion that there would be fewer school shootings if the shooters knew they wouldn’t get any media coverage.
Lesson Six- School Shootings don’t last long and shooters want to avoid a confrontation with police or armed citizens
”the gunman apparently had fled before the first officer arrived” (Kansas City Star)
“investigators believed Goh did not want a confrontation with police” (Examiner.com)
“This happened within minutes,” Jordan said. “We don’t think the victims had any opportunity to resist, any opportunity to surrender.” (CNN)
“Goh offered no resistance when arrested, Jordan said, and was “very cooperative, very matter-of-fact, very calm.” (CNN)
“We don’t believe suspect intended to have a confrontation with the police so he left after he finished shooting,” (Chico ER)
“… only stopped shooting and fled because he heard people calling 911” (Chico ER)
Time is of the essence in active shooter events. The average active shooter incident lasts less than four minutes. This statistic holds true in the Oikos shooting as well.
That means that anyone caught up in or responding to such an event must make decisions very quickly. There won’t be time for police to form a five-man team to hunt for the killer. There won’t be time for anyone inside to run out to their car to get a rifle and their “active shooter bag”. It’s a “come-as-you-are” event and you will be forced to respond with the tools that you are carrying at the time of the attack.
Take note where these shootings happen…in areas that don’t have people carrying guns. As Lt. Col. Dave Grossman says “If the shooter wanted a fight, he would have started shooting up the police station.” The shooter doesn’t want a fair fight. He wants a massive body count. In order to accomplish his goal, he will target a disarmed population like a school.
History shows that the single worst fear an active shooter has is effective resistance from police or armed citizens foiling his plans for notoriety. In nearly every past event, the shooter has either surrendered or killed himself as soon as he is faced with effective resistance.
The faster we can get the good guys hunting the shooter, the fewer people will be killed.
Lesson Seven- Medical Skills are important
“As more calls came in from the school, the first arriving officer found a victim suffering from a life-threatening gunshot wound, he said.”- (KTVU)
“Art Richards said he was driving by the university on his way to pick up a friend when he spotted a woman hiding in the bushes. He pulled over, and when he approached her, she said, “I’m shot” and showed him her arm.” (CNN)
“She had a piece of her arm hanging out,” Richards said, noting that she was wounded near the elbow.”- (Huffington Post)
In mass casualty events like any school shooting, medical response will initially be inadequate. It takes some time to muster the resources to effectively care for more than a few patients. Medical response will also be delayed until the scene is safe, meaning that even if the medics are on the scene, they won’t be allowed to enter the building until police are sure the shooting is finished.
You must be prepared to take care of yourself in these cases. Read up on the military’s “Tactical Combat Casualty Care” principals. Learn how to treat life threatening bleeding, gunshot wounds to the torso, and blast injuries. The skills to treat these types of injuries are not difficult to learn, but you can’t depend on the first aid training you had back when you were a Boy Scout or Lifeguard. Get some updated training.
That is especially true for police officers. Like it or not, you will be forced to handle the initial casualties. Your ability to do that task well will mean the difference between a person living and dying.
Lesson Eight- Recognize Opportunities to act
“Police believe the suspect reloaded his .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol at least once during the rampage”- (Chico ER)
In almost every recent active shooter event the shooter has taken the time to reload his weapon or clear a malfunction. Many shooters are successfully stopped by their unarmed potential victims who recognize that the shooter’s weapon can’t fire. Being able to recognize such opportunities gives a victim a chance to make an escape or to attack the shooter.
Do you know how to tell if a gun is empty or malfunctioning? Do your children know? This is critical information. If you don’t know how to identify an empty or malfunctioning weapon by sight, have one of your friends who owns guns show you. The information might save your life by giving you an opportunity to act.
Lesson Nine- Future shooters study past events
Killers in the past have studied the success and failures of prior active shooters. They emulate what works and they develop plans to counter the tactics that police have used in previous incidents. It’s a constant game of chess between the shooters and police, each side trying to learn lessons from the past.
So what unique factor in the current Oikos College shooting will future shooters emulate? How about this…
“He actually commandeered a victim’s car, and drove it to Alameda” (Bangkok Post)
“the gunman stole Tshering Rinzing’s keys and took away his car.” (Calcutta Telegraph)
This is the first active shooter case of which I am aware when the shooter took the car keys from a dead victim. Goh obviously knew that his fellow students would recognize him and give his identity to the police. Police would be looking for any vehicles registered in his name. Stealing a victim’s car is a smart move.
What worries me is that future shooters will study this and think “What other keys can I take?” When they recognize they can kill a teacher, principal, or janitor to get a master key to the building, a new plan will be created.
That simple act will effectively negate a school’s entire lockdown process and provide plenty of victims for the next shooter. It’s inevitable that this will be part of the next active shooter evolution. Prepared students and school staff should start thinking about how to counter this exigency.
This article is based on the best information I have at the moment. Undoubtedly, some of it will be proven incorrect as further details emerge. We can only do the best we have with the information we have available.
It is my hope that this article will inspire some parents, students, and teachers to better prepare for the next school shooting.
If you would like additional information on school shootings I would recommend that you read my article “A Parent’s Guide to School Shootings”. Another great resource is Loren Christensen’s Book “Surviving School Shootings”.