Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Details are starting to come out about last Friday’s shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. If you haven’t seen any of the details, you can read a brief summary here.
This was a school shooting that would be categorized as pretty “typical.” There was nothing exceptional or unusual about the shooting. The killer did not display any unique or new tactics. With that said, there are a few facts to note:
Police administrators noted that the killer may have posted advanced warning the night before on an Instagram account. On the post, someone added a photo still of the video shot by the New Zealand murderer and wrote: “saugus have fun at school tomorrow.” There is some controversy about this posting and police are waiting on a warrant for the site before making additional comments.
As I’ve noted in the past, it is exceptionally common for school shooters to “leak” information on their planned attacks. We need to be vigilent, notice these leaks, and be willing to act quickly when we see them.
The attack happened in the early morning before classes began (around 0738) while students were still being dropped off at school. I first documented this trend of extra curricular shootings in an article I wrote in 2017. I am working on an updated analysis of school shooting times of more recent incidents.
In the same article I also documented that none of the school shootings in the previous three year period actually occurred in a classroom. Every single shooting took place in a common area. The Saugus shooting also followed this trend. The attack did not take place in a classroom. It happened in a common area (a “quad”).
The killer fired until almost empty and then saved the last bullet for himself. The .45 pistol he was using jammed after the first shot. The killer cleared the malfunction and went on to shoot four more people before shooting himself in the head with his final bullets. Witnesses noticed that the killer counted each shot aloud as he fired.
“L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Friday that surveillance footage showed the shooter entering the quad, taking out a pistol from his backpack and firing the first round.
The gun then apparently jammed, Villanueva said, and the shooter was forced to take time to fix it before firing a second round and then injuring the remaining four students. Then, he used the last round on himself.”
Active killers almost always have weapon malfunctions or shoot the gun until it is empty. Teach anyone in your family who is not familiar with firearms how to identify empty guns and weapon malfunctions. Everyone needs to be instantly ready to exploit those moments when the killer’s gun is not firing.
The entire attack lasted just 16 seconds. Unless an armed defender was actually in the room with the killer, there would be virtually no chance for responders to end this threat.
Three off duty officers (all from different agencies) were dropping off their kids when the shots were fired. They responded before on-duty officers made it to the scene. The shots rang out at 0738. The off duty cops made entry at 0740. The uniformed patrol cops arrived approximately one minute later. This was an excellent response time and officers should be commended for making immediate entry.
A very rapid police response is a given for future active killer events. That’s a good thing. The faster the cops arrive, the quicker the killer will be neutralized. It does, however create some response complications.
1) For Off duty cops- Are you carrying your gun (many don’t) and medical supplies to assist in this situation? What is your plan to avoid being shot by responding officers? Running blindly inside with gun in hand is a good recipe for getting shot. Keep your weapon holstered until you need it. Call into dispatch and make sure they notify responding patrol officers that there is an armed off duty police officer on scene.
2) For School staff- How can you identify the off duty cops and utilize the assistance these folks can offer while preventing access from unauthorized people or additional bad guys?
3) For Uniformed cops- Recognize that in a school shooting, there may be off duty cops, armed parents, and even armed school staff also responding. Not everyone with a gun is a threat. Think about how your response needs to factor all these armed “good guys” into the equation.
There has been a recent trend criticizing schools for doing active killer response drills. The theory behind the criticism is that active killer events are extremely rare and that some students may be traumatized by being forced to think about them during lockdown drills. There is a big push to abolish active killer response drills in schools.
Not so fast. Some of the students involved in this shooting had recently produced a video covering active shooter escape tactics. They didn’t know that they would be using the information they had learned in the video production to escape an actual killer.
“When sophomore Elijah Mims, 15, performed in an active shooter training video for a class project earlier this school year, the Santa Clarita native never thought he’d actually be running for his life.
“We were just preparing for the worst, but we never thought anything would occur in a suburb like Santa Clarita. It’s such a lovely place,” Mims told USA TODAY in a phone interview.
In the instructional video, Mims played the role of a “person who was hiding,” later demonstrating to students how they could safely escape an active shooter situation. On Thursday, Mims found himself a few feet away from an armed classmate. He sprinted into an empty classroom, where he huddled quietly with dozens of other students until police entered the room.
“The video helped me out since I reacted right away and was able to do what I needed,” Mims said.”
Training drills also provided one courageous teacher the knowledge she needed to provide medical attention to a severely wounded student.
“Because I had the training, my instincts were good,” said Holt, a teacher since January. “If I hadn’t had that training, I don’t know that I would have walked myself through what I truly had done in that situation. It probably made a big difference.”
Let’s keep doing training drills in the schools. They clearly saved lives in this shooting.
Here’s the thing that folks need to recognize. Having armed staff (either cops or teachers) on the premises and doing active killer response drills will not prevent all school shootings. The primary role of the armed staff and the training drills isn’t prevention. The true value of drills and guns is to minimize the damage when an attack like this occurs. The faster we can get students to safety and neutralize the shooter, the more lives we save.
We can’t call training drills a failure when they don’t stop an active killer attack. That isn’t the purpose of such drills. The purpose is to minimize casualties. In this incident training drills did just that.
I wouldn’t expect to hear too much more about this incident in the news media. It doesn’t fit their preferred narrative. The killer was an Asian male with no known bullying or mental health issues. He didn’t use an “assault rifle” and he committed the crime in a state with some of the most restrictive gun control laws in the country. That’s not how these things are “supposed” to happen according to the news media. I predict their coverage of this attack will quickly disappear.