Tactical Training Scenario- “They’re Putting On Ski Masks”

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Tactical Training Scenarios

  • SumoMe

Written by Greg Ellifritz


Man in Ski Mask


I recently responded to a call at work that might generate some critical thinking on the part of my readers….


A woman and her infant child were parked outside a small electronics store on a busy thoroughfare in the suburban city where I work.  She was waiting to provide a ride home to her sister and her best friend, both of whom were working in the store.  Five minutes before closing, another car pulled into the parking lot.  It was occupied by two men.  She thought it was strange because it backed into a parking space facing the store and because it had no license plates, either front or back.  Even though it was strange, the car was a Lexus and didn’t seem out of place in the wealthy suburb.


The woman watched as one of the men entered the store while the other stayed in the car with the engine running.  The man in the store asked some unusual questions about a remote control, looked around the store thoroughly and then left a couple minutes later without buying anything.  He returned to the parked car and sat down in the passenger seat.


The woman, still unnoticed by them men, watched as the two men in the car pulled ski masks down over their faces and got out of the car together to walk into the store.  The woman realized she was witnessing a robbery going down.  She wanted to protect her sister and best friend inside, but didn’t want to endanger her infant child in the back seat.


If you were the woman watching, what would you do?


The woman told me that she couldn’t live with the thought that her sister and friend could be killed.  She took a risk.  She simultaneously turned on her car’s lights and called her sister on her cell phone.  The robbers saw that a witness was watching them and was calling someone.  That was enough to stop their attack.  They ran back to the car and sped away.


Everything turned out fine.  The store wasn’t robbed and the witness (and her child) weren’t harmed.  But did the woman make the right choice?  What else could she have done?


Calling her sister on the phone led to some unanticipated chaos and a delayed police response.  The sister inside the store was new to that location.  She didn’t know where the non-emergency police numbers were written down.  The store employee said she didn’t know if it was appropriate to call 911 for such a situation and she couldn’t find the non-emergency police number.


Instead of calling 911, she called her store manager, who then called the non-emergency police number from home.  By the time we got the call, the robbers were long gone.


Don’t be afraid to call 911!  Get the police on their way as quickly as possible!  Anytime there’s a serious crime in progress or a likelihood of injury, 911 is the appropriate number to dial.  It would also be a good idea to write down any essential numbers near your home or business land line phone.  It will save critical minutes if you don’t have to look up the number you need.


Besides calling 911 instead of her sister in the store, what else should the woman have done?   I think she is heroic for turning on her lights and alerting the robbers, but that course of action could have led to tragedy.  The woman was unarmed.  If the lights didn’t disturb the robbers, there was nothing that she could have done to stop the robbery.  Any further action would only endanger her and the child.  Maybe turning on the lights as she drove away would be a better option?  If the lights would deter the robbers, they would still see them as the woman drove away.  But driving away would put her in a safer position relative to the robbers.


I don’t know what the “best” course of action would have been.  I think that I would have driven away if I were in her spot, but you might feel differently.


Most of my readers carry guns.  What would you do here if you were carrying your pistol?  Would you leave your infant child to protect your sister and friend?  Would you willingly engage the two robbers knowing that you are certainly outnumbered and likely outgunned?  Would you go into the store guns blazing or would your pretend to be unarmed until you could get a better handle on what was happening inside?


All of these are questions to consider.  There are no “right” answers.  Each person will likely respond differently depending on skill level and motivation.  I encourage you to think through this scenario and find your own “right answer.”





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13 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Ron says:

    Although I am quite confident in my abilities, I would like to think I would have avoided going into the store, at least under the pretenses quoted here. There is always a risk you don’t see and most likely you haven’t calculated for that risk. Should you enter the store and your plan doesn’t work (as most don’t) then you too could become a helpless victim/hostage,,, armed or not. I think you would do better to stay away/outside. It is quite possible that the thugs just wanted the money, and they would be happy to run. I realize there is NO way to predict such.

    In any event, I would have dialed 911 BEFORE doing anything in this case. Get more help on the way now!

    A tangent thought: it’s easy to armchair quarterback these sorta things from the comfort of my PC chair,,,, knowing all the particulars. Stress will be so much a deciding factor here.

  2. Ursavus.elemensis says:

    Tough call. Stores are insured against theft losses and I am not risking my life for their money since the store owners would not risk their money for my life.

    But with a relative in the store, wow, I don’t know. Well, yes I do know: I’d probably start leaning on the horn, and accessing my handgun, then get out of my car and move towards the robbers. I don’t think it would occur to me to use precious moments calling 9-1-1 so they can slowly go through the routines of asking, “Do you need Police, Fire, or Ambulance?” and then they grill the caller about their location (most of the time, I don’t know specifically which municipality I am in, and if the caller says that, then they start to interrogate the caller about what streets are nearby, and frankly, I rarely know that either. Then they want my name, rank, serial number, etc…I’d never call 9-1-1 in the scenario Greg described, although he is absolutely right for suggesting it.

    I would not be smart enough or fast enough in my thinking to use my headlights or call the relative in the store. I’d hit the horn, though. That would occur to me, and I’d get the gun out and get out, move forward, engage. Somewhere along the way, I’d remember to use cover, and try to find some (other cars, whatever). I would not think of that up front.

    • thebronze says:

      To alleviate that, KNOW who answers 9-1-1 in your area. If it’s answered by someone OTHER than who you need, tell them to transfer you to them NOW. For instance, here in Calif., the CHP answers most cellular calls, but in some cities, that police dept. answers their own. Know who answers.

      Once who you need to talk to comes on the line, tell them what’s happening “There’s an armed robbery in progress at Toys R Us on 1st street. Two men are inside and one is waiting in a white Lexus out in front of the store.”

      After you get that initial info out, they’ll want to make a broadcast. Then they should come back on the line and ask you for additional info (description, clothing, etc.).

      Get the critical info to the correct people FIRST, then deal with what you need to deal with.

  3. thebronze says:

    This is a toughie. But based on the facts given, I’d be inclined to call 9-1-1 and wait for the Cavalry to show up.

    If the robbers left before the police arrived, I’d try to tail the robbers and get back on the phone with 9-1-1 and give them updates on their location, for as long as possible.

    I’d only intervene and employ my gun if absolutely necessary.

  4. JMD says:

    Having a child in the car complicates things greatly. My first priority would be to keep my child safe. My second priority would be to get help. As pointed out, even if I were armed (and I live in a state that rarely allows its subjects to bear arms), I would still likely be outgunned. Better to get police and medical personnel on the way quickly.

    Honestly, once I noticed suspicious behavior, my first reaction would be to take pictures and video of the vehicle and its occupants with my phone. While doing that, I would prepare to dial 911. Once I saw the ski masks come on, I would dial 911 and relay the details as I saw it. I would also start the car and prepare to move if I was in a position to do so without putting myself and my child in danger.

    The way I see it, taking a video of the scene is a low risk measure. If my instincts are right, it gathers valuable evidence for the police. If they’re wrong and this is a just a couple of guys out shopping, I can just delete the video later. No harm done.

  5. Don Stewart says:

    911 would be my first action. I would lose my seatbelt and draw my weapon. I WOULD NOT do anything in an effort to engage the Bad Guys, I’m a security consultant, not a Cop. And if the Bad Guys see me coming toward the door with a weapon they may take hostages or start killing people. Me? I’m a good witness, and even with a relative inside, there’s a child with me outside. That said, the store either has no security polices or ignores what they have. And as per a previous comment, NEVER hesitate to dial 911. If there is any doubt, there is no doubt.

  6. Monty says:

    call 911 and soon as you hear “911 state the nature of your emergency” or whatever it is in your world – start telling the call taker there is an armed robbery occurring at your location and begin identifying the bad guys with as much detail as you can. Also describe the vehicle including make model color anything else that might identify it. Don’t hang up and keep the dispatcher updated. If you’re armed, go ahead and make ready but stay with your kid. Only engage if you’re threatened or if someone is about to get killed. Let the police handle the arrest. Be a good witness. If they leave, report their direction of travel be as detailed as you can. As long as no one is hurt, money can be replaced and the information you provide will help a lot more.

    If you decide to go out and confront them, understand you are not only putting yourself in harm’s way you are putting other people in danger from your actions.

  7. Dave R says:

    The child in the car complicates things… but you have to think about why you would get out of a 2 ton weapon that can move way faster than you can run, in order to engage someone with a proven-ineffective fight stopper. Hitting someone with a car at speed is probably going to be way more effective than shooting them.

    • D. Hide says:

      Actually, a firearm is indeed a very effective fight-stopper and fight-deterrent. That said, I’m not gonna argue with a 2-ton vehicle coming at me! Nevertheless, you can’t carry your car in your pocket, and in the time it takes to start it and put it in gear, I’m already drawn and addressing the threat. Remember, there’s no harm in more options as opposed to less.

  8. Dave R says:

    Also, who in the holy hell sees a robbery going down and doesn’t think 911 is appropriate?!

  9. Don Stewart says:


    Unfortunately, more than I ever would have believed. I’ve seen people foul out on their “First Move”, even trained people. Total Civilians have been denuded of the self confidence to go straight to 911. Instead they say “What if?” What if I’m wrong and offend them? Or they sue me? And I’ve seen, more than once, students in a CCW class on a “Trick Question”, in almost this exact scenario, say that they would, without dialing 911, draw their weapons and confront the masked men. Honest. I’ve seen it 2 or 3 times. Those are the John Waynes you take aside for special input.

    • Ursavus.elemensis says:

      Well, Dave R. and Don Stewart, I can tell you, as I explained above, that when I’ve had to call 9-1-1 they are way too slow at getting to the point where I can give them useful info, and then they start the game of asking me 100 questions before they want to do anything about what I’m calling to tell them. So, screw that. If I see a robbery going down and i don’t know anyone in the store, I’d leave the area promptly so as not to get caught up in any kind of crossfire or missed shots, and I’d probably think of calling 9-1-1 at that point. But if my relative is in the store about to be robbed, no, I’m not messing with calling 9-1-1 and no, I’m not going to drive away and get distance, etc while leaving my relative in a deadly situation. NO. Not doing that. If my relative is in the store, I’m going in to intervene. Don can call me John Wayne and might think he’d single me out for special treatment, but I will not be in any class he is teaching anyway.

  10. D. Hide says:

    I agree with some of the posters above. I think you’re right in that getting some distance via driving is a good first measure. Keeps both you and the kid away from that particular threat, for the time being. After that, I’d get my firearm out of its holster and keep it ready. At the same time or very shortly thereafter, call the boys in blue and let them know what’s going on, to the best of my ability. Go through the process, wait those agonizing minutes. But if I hear shots fired and the police ain’t there yet, I can’t sit on my ass and do nothing. I have to go in and I will. There’s family in there, too.

    Before this situation occurs, teach your family members the tactics and skills to take action for survival. This will put you more at ease, and they can rescue themselves or stay out of harm’s way long enough for the police to make a difference. Recently, my brother was witness to a stabbing across from his workplace (as were many others, as this was broad daylight). Emergency services were on scene quickly as they were located nearby. Details are still spares, but if nothing else, it prompted a long and serious conversation about the need for defense and action for the preservation of your own life. Even after an event like that, people inexplicably resist that idea – If you really care about your loved ones, it’s your job to make sure they are aware of the consequences of inaction.

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