Written by: Greg Ellifritz
Last week we had two planned school shootings aborted in the USA after the intervention from concerned citizens and parents. This is how it is supposed to work. Let’s take a look at the two incidents and see what we can learn.
The more widely publicized incident occurred in Waseca, Minnesota. You can read summaries about the aborted shooting attempt here, here, and here.
A 17-year old student had a detailed plan to kill his family and then use both guns and explosives to target the other students at his high school. He was caught after an alert citizen reported his suspicious activity at a rental storage unit. When police arrived, they caught him constructing the incendiary devices he had planned to use in the school. Some additional information…
1) In depth planning.
“…reportedly laid out his entire plan in a 180-page notebook, in which he also made reference to the school shootings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook. the teenager allegedly told police of his plan to shoot his father, mother, and sister with a rifle, ignite a fire in a field to distract first responders, and then proceed to the local high school to continue his assault.”
“The notebook outlined xxx’s thoughts about the Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook school shootings, police said. He idolized the Columbine shooters, critiquing what they had done right or wrong in their own attack.”
School shooters study the successes and failures of previous school killers and create detailed plan to ensure that they get an even higher body count than what was achieved in previous incidents. This planning often provides the first opportunity for parents or concerned classmates to intervene. This guy had a 180 page notebook detailing his plans. He must have spent considerable time writing in it. Someone should have noticed.
” xxx proceeded to tell police how he planned to kill his family before his attack on the Waseca Junior and Senior High School. He planned to shoot his mother, father and sister with a .22-caliber rifle because it made less noise”
Note that the plans included killing his family. This has been a common theme with many shooters. If you are a cop responding to an active killer event, it should be protocol to do a well-being check on the suspect’s family members as soon as the suspect can be identified.
He also planned a distraction event to pull police and fire resources away from the scene of the intended crime. This has been a common addition to killers’ plans since the technique was so highly successful in the Mumbai terrorist takeover in 2008. The Colorado movie theater shooter planned a similar distraction using explosives and incendiaries. Fortunately, his plans failed.
As cops or fire personnel, keep in mind that strange fires or alarm calls may be a distraction for another, more serious event. Never commit all of your personnel to any one incident. Have a reserve force to respond across town if something else happens.
A final element in the student’s planning was the killing of the school resource officer at the high school after the bombs initiated his attack.
“He said he planned to use the firearms he would bring to the school to kill school liaison officer Jared Chrz while he helped injured students.”
Active killers intensively study police response. Prior to Columbine, police officers set up a perimeter and allowed SWAT to handle such incidents. Now, police are trained to take a more aggressive role in stopping the threat. Would-be killers don’t want their massacres cut short by armed school staff. so they plan to kill those armed staff members and police officers early in the attack.
For any of you DARE or school resource officers reading this, it should set off some alarm bells. YOU will be the first person targeted by a school shooter. You likely won’t be running through the halls responding to the shooting. Instead the shooting will be initiated with an assassination attempt IN YOUR OFFICE.
This also supports my belief that having armed plainclothes security or armed school staff is the best response tactic for any school shooting event. Having armed folks on scene is critical to reducing casualties. When the students don’t know exactly who is armed, they can’t plan to take them out early in the attack.
2) Use of explosives
“At the high school, xxxxxx reportedly said he would set off multiple bombs that he’d made, throw Molotov cocktails, and shoot “as many students as he could.” Three complete explosive devices were found in his room, and the teenager apparently confessed to setting off practice bombs that were found at an elementary school playground in March.”
“he would detonate pressure-cooker bombs and Molotov cocktails. He allegedly detailed how he planned to set off two different pressure bombs in the schools cafeteria during second lunch period,”
“Each bomb contained cans of WD-40 with one packed with ball bearings and the other bomb packed with metal nuts and nails.”
Recent active killers have more often had an explosive component than not. Explosives must be considered in all active killer prevention plans. That’s one of the reasons I am not quite as excited about school “lockdown” plans as many safety “experts” are. Most schools do not have plans to allow individual classrooms to break lockdown in the event of structural instability or fire. Many other schools have students sheltering in rooms that have no escape route. Imagine one of those rooms after a killer throws a few Molotov cocktails at the students hiding under their (wooden) desks. Not a good outcome.
Bombs also provide another interdiction opportunity. In this case, they are what got the police called. Know how bombs and incendiaries are constructed and used. Know the raw ingredients. Be suspicious if you see anyone amassing them.
Also be alert for “test runs” where the killer is evaluating the destructiveness of his devices. The would-be killer here admitted setting off three practice bombs on a school playground. If you see kids playing with explosives, don’t naively write it off to “boys with fireworks.” It might be a killer’s practice session. Call the police.
3) Long guns and lots of ammunition
“xxxx also allegedly told police he was in possession of numerous firearms, including an assault rifle with 400 rounds of ammunition and a Barretta (sic) 9 mm handgun. These were later found in his room alongside three bombs.”
This can prove to be a significant problem for first responders, both cops and armed citizens alike. The criminal will have a distinct advantage over you if he has a rifle with hundreds of rounds and a full-sized pistol while you are carrying your J-frame .38 snub. This advantage can be lessened, but it will require some planning and forethought to do so.
Can you effectively identify cover that will stop rifle rounds (an SKS in this case)? Do you know how far you can guarantee a hit with your concealed carry gun? Do you have a plan about how to safely close the distance if the killer is out of range? Do you know how to set up simple ambushes to maximize the utility of your smaller weapon? If you haven’t thought about these tactics, you aren’t likely to be a significant player in any active killer event.
The second intended school attack happened in San Antonio. You can read about it HERE. Another 17 year old student showed up at school with an AK-47, a .45 pistol and a .22 pistol. All the guns were taken from his home. This student’s plans were not nearly as elaborate. He planned on making some unspecified “demands” over the intercom system and if the demands weren’t met, he would respond with “violence.”
Like the first incident, this student was caught when he was reported by an alert citizen. In this case, it was the boy’s parents. They had reported him missing as a runaway and the school called when he showed up there. The parents noticed the missing guns and told school officials to search the boy. That’s when they found the plan…and the guns.
Would you call the police on your own child in this situation? I’m glad these parents did, but I fear that many parents would not. As seen in both of these incidents, the best way to interdict a school shooter is during his planning and preparation phases, not during the attack itself. The demands an attentive citizenry who is willing to report suspicious activity to the police.
A couple other interesting features to note in this case…
The student here got all of his guns from home. This is very common in school shootings. It’s relatively rare that students steal guns (which is how most other criminals get them.) Instead, they take them from home. I am strongly in favor of citizens having guns in their homes, but if you are a parent of a child with known mental problems, it may not be the best idea. Crazy kids and guns don’t mix. Keep your guns on lockdown or give them to a friend to store until your child’s mental problems are sorted out.
The second interesting fact is that the student pre-staged one of the weapons in a bathroom trash can. We don’t know if he was separating his stash of weapons to limit chances of detection or if he was pre-establishing a “fall-back position” in case of resistance. Either way, it’s important to note this envelopment. I think we’ll see more and more shooters utilizing this tactic in the future.
These two stories had relatively happy endings because alert citizens did the right thing. Let’s study them closely to use these examples to help us prevent even more active killers from reaching their victims.
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