Introduction: Twelve Minutes
In April (2007), at Virginia Tech University, a young man, in two separate attacks spaced two hours apart, shot fifty-five people. He killed thirty-two of them. His first attack lasted a few seconds. The second and more deadly one lasted about twelve minutes. Immediately after the attack, there was a great deal of discussion as to how it could have happened and what could have been done to stop it. While law enforcement has made revolutionary leaps in technical and tactical proficiencies, a glaring chink in our protective armor was laid bare in twelve minutes. While companies like Hard Tactics continue to offer police departments hard and brutal solutions to confronting the unspeakable, litigation, social conscience, and misplaced compassion continue to defeat those solutions. While people don’t want to think about the realities of an active shooting incident, the realities are that the nature of such an incident is that the assailant intends to kill…usually as many people as he or she can. It is a hard reality and it requires hard solutions. Our solutions are not easy. They are hard. They are solutions that should not be the subject of Discovery Channel documentaries. They the only solutions in which there is hope for the minimum loss of life in what amounts to walking into a close ambush. We have discovered that standard “cordon and talk” approach to extreme violence most often results in extreme loss of life…innocent life. Combat experience has proven, at least in my mind, that when you walk into a close ambush, the best thing to do is to turn and violently attack through the ambush. When faced with unspeakable violence, it is time to quit speaking and it is time to do what you get paid to do. In some cases, for too long, police departments have taught that the first arriving officer must wait, for back up, for the SWAT team, for the sergeant, sometimes even for the lawyers. Police officers today must be prepared in the terrible extreme to step into the line of fire, to kill, to save. In short, Hell Calls Hell (Abbysus Abbysum Invocate) ®
This study is ongoing. There are no preconceived ideas which we are trying prove. We study active shooting incidents constantly. This study began shortly after the Virginia Tech Massacre. In our reaction to the Virginia massacre, our company was immediately confronted with numerous requests for training. Those requests created questions. While we had instinctual responses to the emotional reactions we experienced after hearing of Virginia Tech, we felt that there had to be a way to develop a best solution guideline to deliver to LEAs. After much discussion, we realized that we had two basic questions.
- What is the best way a police department can respond to active shooting?
- What is the best way for a victim to respond to an active shooter?
The Approach: First Seek to Understand I began to reading everything we could find on people who kill (Marshall, Walsh, Gentile, Grossman). One surprising thing I found was that several active shooters apparently had no trouble “pulling the trigger”. I started my special operations career as a member of a very elite, very secretive unit. The selection process for the unit, as described by its’ founder in his book, was specifically designed to find the one-out-of-a-million person who could, without hesitation, pull the trigger. The one thing that seemed to be recurrent in the case studies was that there are just some people out there who are imminently capable of pulling the trigger without any real thought. Or so it seemed. In my initial reading, I began to develop some thoughts. Those thoughts focused on the conundrum I have personally been faced with for nearly twenty-five years. How is it, that if it is so hard to kill, did these active shooters do it so easily? Where was their overwhelming urge to not kill as described by SLA Marshall. David Grossman, in his book “On Killing” extends the theory that our new violence-intense mass media is creating an operant and social conditioning in our young people that, in essence, is turning them into the conscious-less killers that very few “hardened” soldiers ever become. I have always wondered what sort person I must be to have been able to repeatedly kill. In my experience, the killing was the easy part. Living with it is the hard part. Overwhelmingly, I discovered that that was exactly the point. The shooters in our study seldom intend to live past the experience. Basically, how do you deal with someone who believes he has nothing left to lose and has it in his mind to take lives on his way out? My background search for understanding yielded next to nothing in terms of understanding the shooter in a way that would lead to useful techniques to best resolve an active shooting incident. However, there were some clues.
- Nearly all active shooters are extremely emotionally distressed
- Many intend to die
- Many have gone through a period of extreme depression and have given up on any hope of solutions
- 4. There is, a on the part of many of the shooters, a documented reluctance to seek “any more help”. Unfortunately, all too often, it is almost as if there is a conspiracy of circumstances that brings a shooter to the point of extreme frustration and hopelessness.
Discussion: The Numbers
In 1966 the era of the SWAT team was born out of law enforcement’s inability to respond to a man in a bell tower in Texas. Therefore it is completely ironic that we have come full circle from that Bell Tower, to hostage protocols, back to active shooting. Most ironic is that the active shooter incident that gave rise to SWAT teams is the same kind of incident that SWAT teams handle the most ineffectively. Consider the numbers. Overwhelmingly, in forty-nine incidents we have studied, we have found that very best outcome is one in which the intended victims resolve the incident. In forty-nine incidents, the vast majority (twenty-three) were resolved by the shooter themselves. In fact, the police only resolved nine incidents. And a couple of those, one could make the argument, were actually resolved by a surrendering or “finished” shooter. Of the incidents that were resolved by the shooters, there were 304 total casualties, 144 of which were fatalities. Resolved-by-shooter also meant fourteen of the shooters, in their last desperate acts, committed suicide. Interestingly, however, in the fourteen incidents in which the victims themselves stepped up to resolve the incident, they did so with a minimum loss of life. In fact, just in the period from 1956 to today (the period of this particular study), there have been 1732 casualties. But, only 129 of those occurred in incidents in which the victims or intended victims took some form of confronting action to resolve this incident. Even more astounding, is that only forty of those casualties were fatalities. That indicates that one is forty-three times more likely to survive an incident if a victim confronts the shooter. Further, when one examines the details of the incidents in which intended victims confronted the shooter, one finds that the earlier the shooter is confronted, the more likely the incident will be resolved with minimum casualties. We cannot prove the following assertion, but it appears from our reading of the incidents, that the longer a shooter is allowed to remain active, the more resolved he is do what he is doing. The earlier he is confronted, in any way, the more likely he is to quit shooting. This observation is consistent with volumes of studies on the psychology of killing.
The most disturbing thing that emerges in the study is the current SWAT protocols actually increase the likelihood of casualties. The following eight case studies are cited to illustrate police responses. They are not all inclusive (Hard Tactics will provide a list of all cases we studied upon request. Go to www.hardtactics.com). However, they do represent the typical police/shooter response.
- In 1966 Charles Whitman, a student with brain tumor and a Marine Corps Veteran, at the University of Texas at Austin, killed 14 people and wounded 32 others during a shooting rampage on and around the university’s campus. The police were completely helpless in terms of having protocols in place to protect lives and end the incident. In fact, the police on the scene willingly used civilian to conduct the final assault on the tower in which Whitman was barricaded. The officers were hamstrung, as was the department itself with a serious lack of communications equipment and weapons. In fact, one of the final assaulters, a civilian had the only rifle and it was borrowed. The incident was the impetus for the advent of SWAT. Strangely, the very actions conducted by the police that actually ended the event are the actions that police subsequently learned to reject. That rejection has resulted in hundreds of unnecessary deaths.
- Evan E. Ramsey (born February 8, 1981) was an Alaskan high school student who perpetrated a school shooting at Bethel Regional High School in Bethel, Alaska on February 19, 1997. During the shooting, two people were killed and two others were wounded. The shooter had been bullied…surrendered as police arrived after he realized he didn’t have the wherewithal to commit suicide
- Edmond, Oklahoma Postal Shooting, August 1986. Patrick Sherill was a United States Postal Service employee who killed 14 employees with two .45 caliber pistols at his work place before turning one of the guns on himself and committing suicide. Six other employees were wounded. The incident which lasted between 15 and 20 minutes, ended while patrol officers were cordoning the perimeter. As the SWAT team began to arrive the assailant shot himself to death. The only survivors did so by playing dead. The first arriving officers were reportedly on the scene within two minutes, but followed procedure and did not enter the building and instead set a perimeter.
- Hungerford, England, August 1987. Michael Robert Ryan, armed with two semi-automatic rifles and a handgun, shot and killed sixteen people including his mother, and wounded fifteen others, then fatally shot himself. This incident clearly illustrates the complete lunacy of an unarmed and untrained (tactically trained) police force. The shooter literally roamed a small town in England for nearly seven hours shooting and killing at will. One officer was killed, unarmed, in his squad car. The shooter was on foot, yet even with the aid of helicopters and modern communications equipment, police were not even able to fix (corner ) the shooter for nearly six hours. Considering that the shooter began his rampage by setting three houses on fire, it is astounding that the police response was so incredibly meager.
- Beslan, Russia Massacre, September 2004. In a hostage takeover begun and ended in an active shooting, a group of Islamic domestic terrorists perpetrated the worst act of mass murder by shooting in modern history. In all, this incident caused nearly twelve hundred casualties, nearly 400 of which were fatalities. When examining this study it is tempting for the reader to consider dismissing the incident as an act of war, as the Chechnians who committed the crime would have the world believe. However, it was mass murder in that the actions of the hostage-takers were illegal, in accordance with both the legal civilian jurisdiction and the laws of land warfare. On one hand, I am sure some would look at this as just another battle in the Global Islamic Insurgency, but Russian authorities have classified this as the actions of criminals. In that case, the police were wholly unprepared to act and acted in horribly ineffective ways. On the other hand, that the action was an act of war. The truth is, even if this was an act of war, based on current law, it was a war crime. However, the Russian secrecy has not allowed a complete examination of the origin and intent of the attackers. We don’t know if the actions were sanctioned by a legitimate rebel group or were self-sanctioned by desperate and misguided individuals. At any rate, this action must be studied because if it can happen in Russia, it can surely happen here and we must be able to most capably respond to it.
- The Dawson College shooting occurred on September 13, 2006 at Dawson College, a CEGEP in Westmount near downtown Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The perpetrator, Kimveer Gill, began shooting outside the de Maisonneuve Boulevard entrance to the school, and moved towards the atrium by the cafeteria on the main floor. One victim died at the scene, while another 19 were injured. The shooter later committed suicide by shooting himself in the head, after being shot in the arm by police. The response, the coordination and completeness of the police, EMS, and fire response was nothing less than extraordinary. Everyone seemed to know and do their job. From arriving in the right place, cordoning, to setting up hostage/victim egress corridors, everything went extremely well. However, from the first appearance of weapons on campus to the assailant killing his last victim (himself), eighteen minutes transpired and nineteen people were shot. The most important fact in this shooting is that there were already two police officers who happened to be on the campus at the time of the shooting began and it still took them thirteen minutes to conduct movement to the location of the assailant (as compared to the NIU police entering within minutes). During that thirteen minutes, nineteen people were shot. In addition, the police officer shot the assailant in the arm, not in a fatal area. It is unknown whether the non-lethal shot was intentional or not. But the assailant at the time was holding two hostages. It is a simple matter happenstance that the assailant chose to commit suicide rather than shoot his hostages, which he was obviously more than capable of doing.
- The Amish School Massacre, Bart Pa, October 2006. This is one of the most botched active shooting incidents I know of. At the point in the incident, when police, SWAT and EMS were on the scene, and the perpetrator began firing, two state troopers requested permission to enter the building. Permission was denied. Police did not enter the building until the shooting stopped! Police report there were 17/18 shots fired. However, the coroner reported at least 24 bullets in one victim alone. No case points to the need of immediate assault upon active shooting more than this case. Police and SWAT were completely unprepared to make entry or even to make a decision. Ten State Troopers received the State Police Medal of Honor…The children received nice funerals…and the assailant received forgiveness from the Amish community. This case should be required reading for every single member of the LEA community.
Cole Auditorium the day after the shooting
- Northern Illinois University, February, 2008, Steven Kazmierczak. This is not a PRI but no other case study illustrates the criticality of appropriate police response. The gunman walked into an auditorium (Cole Hall) and shot twenty-four people. Six people died in the incident, including the perpetrator, making it the fourth-deadliest university shooting in United States history. While an exact time-line is impossible to determine at this point, the campus police chief’s very telling description is of critical note. It appears that the police were called as the attacker was seen entering the building with guns. The police were reportedly on the scene within thirty seconds of receiving the call but did not enter until the building for three minutes…they did not actually enter the building until Chief Grady arrived twenty-nine seconds after he was notified. By the time the chief arrived, organized his responding officers, and entered the building, the shooter had already killed himself, five others, and shooting a total of twenty-four people. All of this occurred in well under three minutes.
In 1966, when Chapman held the city of Austin Texas at bay, the police openly welcomed the very willing and able aid of civilian men who came to help. They not only came to help, but they even came armed with weapons the police did not have. A lot has changed since the afternoon. Our culture has changed. After thirty years of cultural change in which our society has done much to emasculate men and generally make society less self-dependent and more dependent on government services, one of the outcomes, is that the average citizen appears to be much more physically timid than the average citizen of forty years ago. In 1966, most men over the age of had been through some kind of military service and because of that, had more tactical training than the average police officer today. The average male over thirty-five in 1966 stood a real good chance of having combat experience. While it is not the subject of this study, it would be an interesting study to look at any correlations between the decrease of military and combat experience in the average American and the increase in open active shootings. As it stands, it is easy to postulate that the less military and combat experience the American male has, the credence, credibility, and lethality, an assailant with a gun represents. Major researchers on the subject of man’s ability to kill note the same things, time and time again. From the Civil War to Gulf War, researchers from SLA Marshall, to Dave Grossman have found that when a person is pointing a gun at another person, the closer the target is the less likely the person with gun is to pull the trigger. If he pulls the trigger, he is even more likely to sub-consciously miss. In fact, it would appear the killing avoidance is manifested even in active shootings. Apparently, the majority of victims in an active shooting are shot in the back. However, our research indicates that when victims defend themselves, they not only, without doubt save their own lives, but they save other’s lives. In fact, victim-resolved incidents result in 100% fewer fatalities than shooter-resolved incidents. Additionally, police-resolved shootings are twice as likely to result in casualties as victim-resolved shootings.
This chart clearly demonstrates that police-resolved shootings, using current police techniques, dramatically increase the likelihood of casualties. The more victims take responsibility for their survival, the likelihood they will survive dramatically increases.
Victim-Resolved Shootings: In the following case studies we find that the most likely way to survive an active shooting incident is not to run. It is to turn and attack the shooter. The problem is attacking the shooter runs contrary to most current politically correct and police thoughts. However, the these studies speak for themselves.
- Terrazzano, Italy, October 10, 1956. Arturo and Egidio Santato. Arturo Santato, a former inmate of an asylum in Aversa, and his brother Egidio went into a school in Terrazzano, near Milan, carrying guns, dynamite and acid and took 96 children and three teachers hostage for about six hours. They demanded 200 millon lire for the release of their hostages or they would kill them. Using the children as shields they fired shots at people outside the school, killing one person and injuring another three. As the incident was degrading into an active shooter incident it was ended when a teacher tackled Egidio, grabbed a knife and stabbed him in the head. The attack distracted the brothers long enough to give police time to storm the classroom without endangering the children’s lives.
- Pearl High School, Mississippi, February 5, 1981, Luke Woodam. Killed mother at home traveled to school killed three, wounded seven and was enroute to local JHS when captured by his pistol-armed principal
- Frontier JHS, February 26, 1981, Barry Loukaitis. This is a classic example of how effective intended victims can be in their own defense. Severely Bullied, Loukaitis walked from his house to his school armed with a .30-30 caliber hunting rifle and two handguns and 78 rounds of ammunition, where he had entered his algebra classroom during fifth-period. He opened fire at students, killing two and wounding another. He then fatally shot his algebra teacher in the chest. Hearing the gunshots, a gym coach, Jon Lane, entered the classroom. Loukaitis was holding his classmates hostage, and planned to use one hostage so he could safely exit the school. Lane volunteered as the hostage. As Laukaitis started to point his gun at Lane, the coach grabbed the weapon from Loukaitis and wrestled him to the ground while encouraging the escape of the students. Lane kept Loukaitis subdued until police arrived at the scene
- Richland High School Shooting, November 18, 1995, Jamie Rouse. The assailant entered his high school where he confronted teachers two teachers both of whom he shot in the head in the view of over fifty students in the hallway. He then aimed his rifle at football coach, however he missed and fatally shot another student in the throat. The coach then wrestled the shooter to the ground, disarmed him and escorted to the administration office. The shooter later said in a 60 Minutes interview that he intended to hunt down and kill every teacher he could find. This case clearly illustrates the effectiveness of victim confrontation.
- Winnetka, Illinois, May 20, 1988, Laurie Dann (née Wasserman) entered Hubbard Woods School with three handguns. She entered a second grade classroom shot and killed a boy, and wounded two girls and three boys in. This incident, which lasted several hours and took place in multiple locations, is actually a shooter resolved incident. However, the portion of the incident which took place in the classroom illustrates the effectiveness of determined defense by intended victims. When Dann entered the classroom, after shooting a boy in a restroom, she attempted to herd the children in the room into a corner. The teacher in the room attacked Dann and managed to unload one of the guns the assailant had. While Dann was able to get several shots off with another gun, killing one and wounding four children, the teachers attack caused Dann to flee the scene. There is no question that the teacher’s attack saved many lives. She able to wound five students, kill one and wonder around the school for several minutes, struggle with a teacher and walk out of the school with ever encountering a policeman. In fact she walked through local woods until she came upon another house in which she encountered a woman and her adult son. During this incident the police finally showed up and the affair, which the police developed into a hostage barricade situation, was resolved when Dann shot herself in the head prior to the police entering the house.
- Thurston HS, Springfield Oregon, May 21, 1998, Kipland P. Kinkel. On May 21, after spending the previous murdering his parents an expelled student, Kinkel, drove his mother’s care to the high school carrying a hunting knife, a 9 mm pistol, a .22 rifle and a another .22 pistol. He was carrying 1,127 rounds of ammunition. He parked outside the school, entered the hallway and fired two shots, one fatally wounding Ben Walker and the other wounding Ryan Atteberry. Kinkel then entered the cafeteria and, walking across it, fired the remaining 48 rounds from the 50-round magazine in his rifle, wounding 24 students and killing 16-year-old Mikael Nicholauson. Kinkel fired a total of 51 rounds, accumulating 37 hits, and two fatalities. When his rifle ran out of ammunition and Kinkel began to reload, a wounded student, Jacob Ryker, recognizing from his own experience with guns that Kinkel was out of ammunition, tackled Kinkel, and was soon assisted by several other students. Kinkel drew the Glock, and fired one shot before he was disarmed, injuring Ryker again as well as another student. The students restrained Kinkel until the police arrived and arrested him. Seven students were involved in subduing and disarming Kinkel.[The most interesting aspect of this shooting is that the shooter had a 73% hit ratio. This hit ratio far out performs police hit ratios in gunfights. The difference, we believe, based on Dave Grossman’s study “On Killing” , is that the shooter was prepared to kill. Police are not. They are conditioned to save lives, not take them. Therefore, the police are always at a disadvantage. We believe that the answer lays in drastic reshaping of rules of engagement. Police must know when they can shoot and when they can’t. In an active shooter incident, they must understand, and undergo and operant conditioning to be prepared to discriminate shoot-no-shoot and then shoot to kill.
- Appalachian School of Law Shooting, January 16, 2002, Peter Odighizuwa. A former student Peter Odighizuwa arrived on the school campus with a handgun. Odighizuwa first discussed his academic problems with professor Dale Rubin, where he proceeded to the offices of Dean Anthony Sutin and Professor Thomas Blackwell, where he opened fire with a his .380 handgun at very close range, killing both men. He also killed another student by the name of Angela Dales, then wounded three other students. When Odighizuwa left the building where the shooting took place, he was subdued by two students (off-duty police officers) with personal firearms and one unarmed student who subdued and disarmed him. Once again this shooting emphasizes the need for immediate response. This shooting is classified as a victim resolved shooting because the police officers who resolved it, were off-duty and were part of the victim population (they were adult students attending the school). Another interesting point is that, due to gun control perceptions, the policemen had to retrieve their firearms from their vehicles. This delay is one of the factors which resulted in additional casualties. However, there is no doubt that the armed confrontation ended the incident.
- Weston HS, Cazenovia, Wisconsin, September 26, 2006, Eric Hainstock, a freshman at Weston High School, entered the main hallway of the school with a .22 caliber revolver and a 20-gauge shotgun owned by his father, which he had taken from his locked gun cabinet. After arriving at school at approximately 8:00 a.m., he aimed the shotgun at a social studies teacher. The school custodian, Dave Thompson, wrestled the shotgun away from Hainstock. Principal John Alfred Klang entered the hallway and confronted Hainstock, who was still armed with the handgun. Hainstock then grabbed the revolver from inside his jacket. Klang grabbed Hainstock after several shots were fired and wrestled Hainstock to the ground and swept the gun away. Klang was on top of Hainstock and by Klang’s leg there was a pool of blood. Staff and students apprehended Hainstock, holding him until the police arrived. Klang had been shot during the scuffle. He still managed to stop the incident and when he later died from his wounds, he remained the only victim. It was quite clear that Hainstock intended to kill many others.
- Mercaz Haray Massacre Jerusalem, Israel, March 6, 2008, Alaa Abu Dhein, This incident and the NIU massacre are the most compelling examples of justification for police entering the fray as possible. The first officer on the scene was there within three minutes. He heard shooting but proceeded to set up a security perimeter. The next arriving officer (Shapira) immediately decided to enter the building, while the shooter was active. From time of first arrival (four minutes after first call) to first entry (six minutes), the assailant had killed 9, wounded 10 and had fired over 500 rounds of 7.62 ammunition. It took the police entry team three minutes to locate and engage the assailant. During the next two minutes no other innocent people were injured or killed.
- Reno Middle School, Reno Nevada, April 28, 2008, James Scott Newman. The shooter carried a .38-caliber pistol into his middle school where he apparently intended to use the gun on several people and where he began to randomly fire at students. When a woman gym teacher who was in a nearby room, heard the shots, she rushed into to the hallway where she confronted Newman. When the teacher saw Newman, she ordered him to drop the gun. While empathizing with him, trying to offer him understanding, she basically convinced him to place the gun on the floor at which time she physically restrained him until additional staff arrived. There is no doubt that this unarmed teacher save countless lives.
- Deer Creek Middle School, Jefferson County, Colorado, February 23, 2010, This shooting took place when 32 year old Bruco Eastwood entered Deer Creek Middle School with a high-powered hunting rifle and opened fire, wounding two eighth grade students. One eighth grader was taken to the hospital and was in critical condition for about 4 days. The other one was released from the hospital later on that night after the shooting. The incident was minimized by the fact that Deer Creek Middle School math teacher David Benke, upon hearing the shots ran toward the shooting, tackled and restrained the assailant who was later taken into custody by the police.
Commentary: Using the Northern Illinois University case as an example, we can concisely point to some extremely salient points. This case points to the need for street cops to be armed with rifles and be prepared to close, isolate, or neutralize an active shooter upon arrival at a scene without waiting for back-up. In the NIU case, by any existing measure, the police acted nearly perfectly. The problem is that the existing measures calibrated incorrectly. The real issue here was the first arriving officers setting up a SWAT style perimeter rather than conducting movement to contact. The shooter was active for only three minutes, but fire over 50 rounds. He had to reload his pistol and his shotgun…natural lulls in action. The police reported arrived within 30 seconds of shooting beginning (someone witnessed the assailant entering with firearms and called the police) If the police had entered during the first minute of shooting, as it was apparent they were able, loss of life would have been dramatically less.((after the Virginia Tech massacre, the University of Texas Clock Tower shooting, and the California State University, Fullerton library massacre.
As incongruous as it may seem, there were some obvious successes because the two Montreal police shooting could have actually ended the incidents had they felt they had the social and legal permission, without specific granting from higher authority, to conduct a movement-to-contact to fix. However, the officers did not seem to have that permission or the specific Individual Movement Techniques (IMT) training which would have been necessary to make contact with the assailant at what is known as combat speed. The presence of those demonstrated abilities could have saved numerous casualties. This incident has been widely held as a success of new police tactics in dealing with Active Shooters. However, this and the NIU shooting proves that in an Active Shooting police cannot claim success unless;
- Police are able to respond within a minute and,
- The police enter and conduct a movement-to-contact-to-fix (locate isolate, capture, or kill).
- The police have training that includes the necessary operant and social conditionings that would have enabled them to;
- discriminate as to kill/no kill (not the same as the FBI shoot/no shoot) and
- have the emotional ability to kill and
- they have the marksmanship training to make the kind of shot they were required to make. Marksmanship standards for police departments need to be set at 25 meters for pistol and 300 meters for open sights rifle. While officers may never actually make shots at these distances on the street, they are the minimum standards which promise the minimum competency at the shorter street ranges, especially when under the kind of intense stress these incidents create.
Most commonly, active shooters experience some form of frustration which results in a rage that inevitably ends a shooter’s and others lives, if not diagnosed, treated, and resolved in an accurate way. Often the shooters are themselves enraged victims. They are victims of bullying, abuse, neglect, or unfairness. Many of them sought counseling, but the counseling may have been inaccurate, at best. For example; When my wife finally convinced me to be screened for PTSD that she felt had to be the cause of what she described as unreasonable rage, horrible nightmares, and chronic insomnia, I was immediately unequivocally diagnosed as having PTSD. I received counseling from three different people. One was a psychologist, one a psychiatrist, and one was a vet. None actually helped. Although, the vet did help me accept that I did, in fact, suffer from PTSD. And that what was going on inside of me stemmed from my overwhelming feelings of guilt (from killing and living). He said he had been living with it himself for forty years. He helped me understand my anger as a symptom of my guilt. Grossman, in his book, and the mental health professionals I’ve consulted believe that to treat people like me, (people whose killing is sanctioned by the state), they must convince us that we did nothing wrong. No sane human ever kills another human without knowing that on some very deep human level, that it is wrong to take the life. No matter how necessary the killing is, the person who pulls the trigger suffers the sole responsibility. The good doctors merely labor in a vain attempt to absolve us of our guilt. They are all wrong. There is no absolution. We must simply move on through our lives. The nightmares and those terribly dark early morning hours I call “the gloom” are just simply what we have to endure. We cannot be cured of our quilt (nor should we) any more than my friend Romy can be cured of being a quadriplegic from being shot in the neck in Afghanistan. The point is that as much I want Romy to walk again, as much I want to sleep again, and as much as we all want these terribly disturbed shooters to resolve their issues and live out their lives in productive ways, we must accept that it isn’t going to happen the way we want it to.
I came to the conclusion that at the moment of a shooting, the time for talking is over. It is over because the guy with the gun is in charge. He or she says it is over. Seeking right or wrong, seeking to understand, or society wanting to get a “do-over” to help the poor wretched soul doing the shooting, is completely and utterly useless. The focus at the scene must be the same as it is in any accident scene. The very first thing a responder does at an accident scene is survey the scene for hazards, and then to make the scene safe from any further existing hazards. In the case of an active shooting, the first responding officer becomes a soldier conducting a Movement-to-Contact-to-Fix (the enemy). He cannot become a lifesaver and treat the wounded. He must first render the scene safe. The active shooting moment in his life most likely will become the most unfair moment in his life. He will never be the same. His old life is gone. The only control he has now is how the incident ends. Will innocent lives be saved or not? The man with the gun is in charge and he has decided for death. The responder only gets to decide how many.