Written by Greg Ellifritz
I often get questions about basic survival strategies in my self defense classes. One such strategy I often hear mentioned is “playing dead.” This strategy appeals to people who have a peaceful, non-confrontational demeanor. People who really don’t want to develop the skills necessary to fight effectively will be drawn towards the almost magical appeal of playing dead. They think that the attacker will pass them by and move on to another victim.
Sometimes it works. Take a look at the link below. A 13-year old boy survived the brutal killing of all of the rest of his family by playing dead.
Despite this strategy’s appeal and its occasional chance for success, I don’t generally recommend it. For every instance where it works, I can provide you with several where it didn’t.
Consider the mass school shootings at both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. In both events, the shooters went back through the piles of bodies to shoot people who had been playing dead. In fact, the Virginia Tech shooter actually practiced shooting students playing dead at a public shooting range before the attack! He placed targets on the ground in long rows simulating students hiding under desks. He walked along an imaginary “aisle” between these rows of students and practiced shooting down into the ground! Several people reported seeing this practice session after the shooting took place, but no one thought to report the shooter during his practice session.
An even more recent event that shows the futility of playing dead was the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting. Like the shootings mentioned above, the Orlando killer moved past the “dead” victims several times during the attack, firing additional shots at the unmoving bodies. One victim described what happened as he played dead on the dance floor:
“‘I was shot about three times in my leg, so I had fallen down. I tried to get back up, but everyone started running anywhere. I got trampled over, and I shattered and broke my bones on my left leg. So by this time I couldn’t walk at all,’ he said.
‘He goes into the other room, and I can just hear more shots going on. I thought I was a little safe at this time because, you know, it’s giving everyone time to tackle him down or get him down,’ he said.
‘Unfortunately, I hear him come back, and he’s shooting everyone that’s already dead on the floor. Making sure they’re dead,’ Colon said.
‘I can hear the (gunshots) closer, and I look over and he shoots the girl next to me. And I’m just there laying down. I’m thinking, ‘I’m next. I’m dead.”
The gunman shoots the already wounded Colon twice more, but somehow, the survivor said, ‘by the glory of God, he shoots towards my head but it hits my hand.
‘Then he shoots me again and it hits the side of my hip,’ he recalled.
Colon was careful not to give away the fact that, despite having a half-dozen bullets lodged in his body, he was not dead.
‘I had no reaction. I was just prepared to just stay there laying down so he won’t know that I’m alive,’ he said.
‘And he’s just doing this for another five, ten minutes. He’s just shooting all over the place.”
Playing dead should only be a tactic you employ when you have exhausted all others. Save playing dead for a time when ALL other options have failed. If you are caught up in a shooting, armed resistance is your best strategy. If you are unarmed, try to escape. If that doesn’t work, try to “lock down” and barricade yourself until police arrive.
All of theses strategies have a higher success rate than playing dead. The only time you should consider playing dead is when the above listed strategies are impractical or have failed. Even then, playing dead doesn’t have a very good track record.
Save the theatrics for the opossums.
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