Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Yesterday, Connecticut officials released a preliminary report that described the actions of the school shooter and all responders in last years Sandy Hook Elementary School. The report is far from complete, but does contain numerous pieces of information that the parent, armed citizen, or cop should know. The entire 44 page report is available HERE. It’s worth reading.
I’ve highlighted some of the more pertinent issues I found in the report and will provide a brief commentary about each one. All italic and indented text is from the report. I apologize for the text inconsistencies. They are the result of different fonts being used by the reference material and can’t be changed.
In many active shooter cases, it is difficult to ascertain why the shooter chose his particular targets. It is the same here. The shooter had mental illness and was familiar with the school (he attended it for several years). It may have come down merely to a close proximity to his house that was the deciding factor.
“The first question was whether the shooter had a reason specifically to target SHES or any student, teacher, or employee. No evidence suggests that he did. In fact, as best as can be determined, the shooter had no prior contact with anyone in the school that day. And, apart from having attended the school as a child, he appears to have had no continuing involvement with SHES.”
“More generally, those who knew the shooter describe him in contradictory ways. He was undoubtedly afflicted with mental health problems; yet despite a fascination with mass shootings and firearms, he displayed no aggressive or threatening tendencies. In some contexts he was viewed as having above-average intelligence; in others below-average. Some recalled that the shooter had been bullied; but others – including many teachers – saw nothing of the sort. With some people he could talk with them and be humorous; but many others saw the shooter as unemotional, distant, and remote”
In almost all school shooting events, the shooters have constructed very detailed plans for their actions. They have made extensive preparations for success. These plans and preparations are important for school staff and parents to note. They may be the most actionable early-indicators of violent activity.
“The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life”
“The shooter’s second floor bedroom windows were taped over with black trash bags. The second floor computer room also had its windows covered. There, investigators found a computer hard drive that appeared to have been intentionally damaged. To date, because of the extensive damage, forensic experts have not yet been able to recover any information from that hard drive.”
“It is known that the shooter had significant mental health issues that affected his ability to live a normal life and to interact with others, even those to whom he should have been close. As an adult he did not recognize or help himself deal with those issues. What contribution this made to the shootings, if any, is unknown as those mental health professionals who saw him did not see anything that would have predicted his future behavior. He had a familiarity with and access to firearms and ammunition and an obsession with mass murders, in particular the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. Investigators however, have not discovered any evidence that the shooter voiced or gave any indication to others that he intended to commit such a crime himself.”
Other items found and noted for this report are:
-A New York Times article from February 18, 2008, regarding the school shooting at Northern IllinoisUniversity
-Three photographs of what appear to be a dead human, covered in blood and wrapped in plastic;
-The book Amish Grace:How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy
-Photocopied newspaper articles from 1891 pertaining to the shooting of school children
While the vast majority of persons interviewed had no explanation for the shooter’s actions, a review of electronic evidence or digital media that appeared to belong to the shooter, revealed that the shooter had a preoccupation with mass shootings, in particular the Columbine shootings and a strong interest in firearms. For example, there was a spreadsheet with mass murders over the years listing information about each shooting. The review of the electronic evidence also found many things that are on a typical hard drive or memory card that would probably have no relevance to the investigation either because of creation date or subject matter. That being said, the following selected topics or items were found within the digital evidence seized:
-Bookmarks pertaining to firearms, military, politics, mass murder, video games, music,books, Army Ranger, computers and programs, ammunition, candy, economic books
-Web page design folders
-Two videos showing suicide by gunshot
-Commercial movies depicting mass shootings
-The computer game titled “School Shooting” where the player controls a character who enters a school and shoots at students
-Screen shots(172) of the online game “Combat Arms”
-Images of the shooter holding a handgun to his head
-Images of the shooter holding a rifle to his head
-Five-second video (dramatization) depicting children being shot
-Images of shooter with a rifle, shotgun and numerous magazines in his pockets
-Documents on weapons and magazine capacity
-A document written showing the prerequisites for a mass murder spreadsheet
-A spreadsheet listing mass murders by name and information about the incident
-Materials regarding the topic of pedophilia and advocating for rights for pedophiles (not child pornography)
-Large amount of materials relating to Columbine shootings and documents on mass murders
-Large amount of materials on firearms
Potential Pre-Incident Warnings
In many previous school shooting incidents, the shooter communicated his plans with friends or associates, providing yet another potential opportunity for interdiction. The shooter in this case communicated some very vague threats via computer. They may or may not have been actionable. Police and parents should take these threats seriously if they are seen.
“investigators determined that on 12/12/12, an individual logged onto a website called 4Chan.com and anonymously posted “I’m going to kill myself on Friday and it will make the news. be watching at 9:00 am.” That another anonymous individual asked “Where at?” The first individual responded “I live in Connecticut, that’s as much as I’ll say.”
That additionally on 12/14/12, a concerned individual in Texas contacted the Hartford Police Department and reported that her son was playing a video game named ‘Call of Duty’ approximately 20 hours ago. She continued that a gamer with the screen name[RaWr]i<3EmoGirls (hereinafter “User”) stated; “next week or very soon there maybe a shooting at my school and other schools so if i die remember me plz if I don’t get on for 3-5 not including weeks that means i died and im being 100 percent serious.” The User then stated: “something might go bad tomorrow this could possibly be my last moments alive.-.” Finally, User stated, “as far as I know theres a list of ppl that are gunna get shot-. I hope I aint on it.”
The increasing trend among active killers is to be very heavily armed. They generally are attempting to obtain the highest body count possible and the shooter here was no different. Whether you are an armed citizen or a cop, ask yourself if you are prepared to handle a killer armed like this one.
“The following weapons were recovered in the course of this investigation:
(1) a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S semi-automatic rifle, found in the same classroom as the shooter’s body. All of the 5.56 mm shell casings from the school that were tested were found to have been fired from this rifle.
(2) a Glock 20, 10 mm semi-automatic pistol found near the shooter’s body and determined to have been the source of the self-inflicted gunshot wound by which he took his own life.
(3) a Sig Sauer P226, 9 mm semi-automatic pistol found on the shooter’s person. There is no evidence this weapon had been fired.
(4) a Izhmash Saiga-12, 12 gauge semi-automatic shotgun found in the shooter’s car in the parking lot outside the school, and which was secured in the vehicle’s trunk by police responding to the scene. There is no evidence this weapon had been fired.
(5) a Savage Mark II rifle found at 36 Yogananda Street on the floor of the master bedroom near the bed where the body of the shooter’s mother was found. This rifle also was found to have fired the four bullets recovered during the autopsy of the shooter’s mother. All of the firearms were legally purchased by the shooter’s mother. Additionally, ammunition of the types found had been purchased by the mother in the past, and there is no evidence that the ammunition was purchased by anyone else, including the shooter.
“Officers found two-hundred-fifty-three live rounds on the shooter’s body: one-hundred-sixteen 9mm rounds, seventy-five rounds of 10 mm, sixty-one rounds of 5.56 mm and one 12 gauge shotgun shell. Officers also seized forty-six 5.56 mm live rounds. This consisted of fifteen from the rifle, one from the floor and thirty from the magazine under the body of the shooter, as well as thirteen 10mm live rounds (nine from the Glock and four from the floor). There were forty-nine expended 5.56mm casings seized and one 10 mm casing from classroom 10. Total live rounds seized were three-hundred-twelve and total expended casings seized from classroom 10 were fifty.”
School Security and Staff Actions
Entrance to the school/Security Issues
The school was appropriately locked and monitored by video. That didn’t help. The shooter here shot out a window to gain access. It’s important not to place all of your security plans contingent on passive security measures such as locks and cameras.
“On the morning of December 14, 2012, the shooter, age 20, heavily armed, went to Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHES) in Newtown, where he shot his way into the locked school building with a Bushmaster Model XM15-E2S rifle.”
Classroom Security and Lockdown
There was no formal call for a lockdown during this incident, but during the shooting in the office, the school-wide PA system was activated and some teachers attempted to lock the doors when they heard the shooting. But like most schools, locking doors requires a key from the outside. Both finding a key and exposing yourself to the shooter outside the door are suboptimal. Better individual classroom door security must be considered by all schools.
“Miss Soto was found deceased in the room near the north wall with a set of keys nearby. Nine children had run out of the room and survived. A police officer found two uninjured children in the class restroom.”
I think the best course of action in most school shootings is to escape. Several students and staff did that here and were successful. None of the escaping teachers or students was either pursued or shot.
“Some people were able to escape out of the building prior to the police arrival and went to Sandy Hook center, nearby residences, or received rides from parents going to the school or from passersby”
“a number of SHES staff had escaped from the school through a window and had been running outside the school building during the shootings”
In general, I believe hiding is a poor option, but it worked for several people in this case. Both the students hiding in the restroom above survived as well as some of the people in the office.
“The shooter then went into the main office, apparently did not see the staff who were hiding there, and returned to the hallway.”
Police Response on Scene
Cops got to the scene within four minutes, but waited until minute 11 to make entry. They heard shots on scene, yet chose to wait before entry. The shooter fired his weapon for approximately two minutes when police were on scene before he killed himself. It is my opinion that some of the casualties could have been prevented if the first responding officer made immediate entry.
Many departments rely on four- officer teams to respond to such threats. In most cases, that simply takes too long. Officers need to make immediate individual entry in these cases and take the fight to the shooter.
“The response to these crimes began unfolding at 9:35:39 a.m. when the first 911 call was received by the Newtown Police Department. With the receipt of that call, the dispatching and the arrival of the police, the law enforcement response to the shootings began. It was fewer than four minutes from the time the first 911 call was received until the first police officer arrived at the school. It was fewer than five minutes from the first 911 call, and one minute after the arrival of the first officer, that the shooter killed himself. It was fewer than six minutes from the time the first police officer arrived on SHES property to the time the first police officer entered the school building. In fewer than 11 minutes twenty first-grade pupils and six adults had lost their lives.”
“It was fewer than six minutes from the time the first police officer arrived on SHES property to the time the first police officer entered the school building.”
Police Weapon Handling
There was some evidence that the responding cops were not very well trained. In numerous places around the perimeter, evidence techs found unfired shotgun shells from police guns. To me, this indicates fumbling and an inability to properly operate the weapon. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon. Most cops don’t shoot well. Relying on their protection in cases like this is a hit or miss proposition.
“The live shotgun shells (other than the one found on the shooter and the ones found in the shooter’s car) that were located inside and outside of the school were in locations where first responders had been and reported missing live shotgun rounds. Moreover, the shells were found in locations where there had not been reported sightings of any non-law enforcement individuals; There were no expended shotgun shells found in the actual crime scene nor were any expended 12 gauge shotgun pellets or slugs recovered”
“It is believed that these live shells were dropped by first responders.”
“Also found in the north parking lot, was a shotgun shell that was dropped by a first responder”
Chaos during Response
While I am critical about the delayed response and the poor weapons-handling skills of the cops, I recognize that they were likely dealing with the most chaotic and traumatic event that they had ever experienced. Take a look at the factors below. the cops were trying to process all this information they were receiving and attempt to neutralize a second shooter as well. Recognize that a lot of the information that is aired in the initial stages of such an incident is likely to be wrong.
As noted above, on December 14, 2012, there was a concern that there may have been more than one shooter. This was based upon a number of factors:
– The initial police encounter with the unknown male outside SHES;19
– Reports by school personnel during the shooting on a 911 call of seeing someone running outside the school while the shooting was ongoing;
-The location of two black zip up sweat jackets on the ground outside of the shooter’s car;
– The discovery of an Izhmash Saiga-12, 12 gauge shotgun and ammunition in the passenger compartment of the shooter’s car. A police officer moved this shotgun and ammunition to the car’s trunk for safety purposes;
– Shell casings that were located outside of the school; and
– The apparent sound of gunfire coming from outside of the school;
-A parent who arrived at SHES as the shooting was taking place saw the shooter’s car parked in front of the school with the passenger side door open and the two sweat jackets on the ground near the car. To the parent, the jackets looked like two black blankets on the ground.
It should be common practice for responding officers to perform a well being check on the shooter’s family as soon as the shooter is identified. A significant number of mass killings start with the shooter’s own family.
“Prior to going to the school, the shooter used a .22 caliber Savage Mark II rifle to shoot and kill his mother in her bed at the home where they lived at 36 Yogananda Street in Newtown.”
Additional Potential Indicator
Cops should pay attention to illegally parked vehicles at public events. Famously, the Beslan school massacre was preceded by the sight of large military trucks pulling up in front of the school and parking in a strange place. The shooter in the Aurora Colorado movie theater shooting parked in an unusual place as well. There may have been others, but the shooter here also parked illegally.
“On the morning of December 14, 2012, the shooter parked his 2010 Honda Civic next to a “No Parking” zone outside of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.”
Although the report is difficult to read, all parents, teachers, and cops should make the effort. It;s only by understanding the motives and actions of past shooters that we can prevent future massacres.
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