What Would You Do If You Encountered An Armed Gunman?

Posted: July 25, 2012 in crime
Tags: , ,

I want to first say that my thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of the Aurora, Colorado shooting.

The news is filled with stories of the shooting, the victims, and the gunman.  One comment made by the media was about how Columbine forever changed the way we react to armed shooters.  Much like 9/11 changed the way airlines respond to hijackers.

I was working for General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) in California in 1990 when a branch office in Jacksonville, Florida was the scene of a massacre.  James Edward Pough walked into a large office of 85 employees and opened fire, killing eight, before turning the gun on himself.  Survivors talked about the victims who tried to hide under their desks, only to be killed by the gunman who went from desk to desk, shooting them one by one.

I work on a college campus, and after the Virginia Tech attack by Seung-Hui Cho, campus police put together a workshop about what to do if an armed gunman was loose on campus.  The first thing they said was “if you think you hear gunfire, then it is very likely that what you’re hearing is gunfire.”  Do not run outside to investigate.  Barricade yourself in a room (preferably one without windows) and stay there until law enforcement arrives and gives the all-clear.  The officers conducting the workshop explained that a shooter, or shooters, are out to kill as many people as they can as quickly as they can.  They will generally fire into a room, but will more likely move on to easier targets, rather than taking the time to break in.

As we walked into the workshop, we were all handed ping-pong balls.  Later, as part of a simulation exercise, we were told that one of the officers was going to come through the door with his arms up as if holding a weapon.  We were told to throw the ping-pong balls at him the second he opened the door.  His reaction was to raise his hands to cover his face.  Obviously, this would not have worked in the Aurora situation, but I believe preparation for whatever situation you find yourself in is helpful.

The workshop also included a video of actual footage from the Columbine massacre.  It showed the killers firing their weapons, not the actual killing of victims.  But it was still very chilling in spite of that.  At one point you see the two shooters spraying bullets and then pausing to yell at someone to “stop!”  And you hear the voice of the would-be victim yelling back “F**k you!”  That student survived.

I know I’m better prepared for having attended the workshop.   I hope that none of us ever have to make that kind of split-second decision, but I’m glad to be able to share these possible life-saving measures.

Take care.

  1. LD says:

    Per my aunts request, she asked me to recount an encounter of the most unpleasant kind when I worked in the Bay Area many years ago…I’ve posted it here for others too.

    It’s funny you mention the shooting, that was so long ago, I don’t remember his name at all but I can still see him, he was the security guard for the complex.  I’ll never forget that day, 25 years later and it feels like yesterday when I think about it!  I think there were 2 killed, and several people hurt, they were all young, late teens, early 20’s and they worked in the call center next door to our office.  I would talk to him while I was out on break, he was very quiet and shy, still lived at home with his mother who was not in the best of health, we would talk at least a couple times a week for a few minutes while he made his rounds, I would always ask him how his mom was doing, and that may have saved my life!  The night he walked in to our building, I was walking back to my desk, he walked in our back door, and he looked strange, sort of out of it, it was weird that he was in our building, he’d never done that before, when he saw he me he stopped, and I said ‘hi, how are you tonight’ and he just stared at me, I knew some thing was wrong with him, he just looked off, I thought maybe something happened to his mom, so I kept walking toward him and I asked him ‘are you ok’, he just shook his head no, he put his hand up, in a stop gesture and so I did, I stopped walking and stood very still, we just stared at each other, he gave me a small wave with the same hand he had up, and I said “goodnight, see you tomorrow”, I’ll never forget his look, so sorrowful, he just shook his head in a no gesture again and he turned and walked out the back door, it wasn’t even a minute, the gunfire started and people next door started screaming, I yelled out to my coworkers to get away from the wall and to get down, and that’s just what we did until the shooting stopped.  It was so surreal, everything happened so fast and in slow motion all at once.  I remember laying on the floor thinking are we next, is the gunman coming in here next, who would be shooting next door, where did the security guard go, is he on his way, is he already there and shot, what???!!  I don’t remember how long I layed there, I think until I heard the sirens coming, I was so afraid to move, then it seemed like police were swarming every where all at once. They questioned me for hours since it turned out I was the last one who really saw him before he went into the building next door. I guess he walked in and just started blasting away then left when he had no more ammunition.  They concluded that the people next door used to tease him, and he’d finally just lost it.  Maybe my saving grace was he remembered that I would talk to him, ask about his mom, I don’t know, it could have easily been me and my coworkers that he unloaded his gun on!  It still very sobering when I think about it, how quickly life turns on a dime.  We leave our homes each and every morning never imagining that we won’t be returning that night.

  2. gallowk says:

    Working at a Community College, the thought that something might occur at our campus always remains at the back of my mind. I work in the President’s Office and we have no walls, doors or cubicles to shield us from anyone who might come through our glass doors. This might sound a bit like paranoia, but after Virginia Tech and a recent incident at CSU Sacramento, it is not that far out of the realm of possibility. Especially given that we often have distraught, angry or unstable students who come in for a disciplinary meeting with our Vice President.

    When I was working as an evening clerk at one of the other campuses in the district a few years ago, the need for awareness and personal safety became real for me when I heard that one of the students who frequented my office on a regular basis was banned from campus for assaulting another staff member. She got into a verbal argument that in physical violence against my co-worker. My first thought when I heard about it was “that could have been me.” I knew that this student was unstable and paranoid. She would sit and rant in my office for uncomfortably long periods of time until I could find an excuse to close up our office for an errand to run. I was the only person in the office after regular hours, and simply leaving my post was difficult if not impossible to do. The student was constantly talking about conspiracies and the grudges that faculty, administration and staff against her. She feared that the government was spying on her. She even went so far as to say that she had been abducted and that they implanted a microchip in her brain so that they could track her. Most days, I felt nothing but irritable about the interruption to my work day. It never occurred to me that I should also be afraid.

    We live in troubled economic times, and students are often ill able to afford psychological counseling. Mental illness, life stressors and financial problems can create a perfect storm within a person who has had just one too many pressures added to their already overfilled lives. A smile, a kind word, an understanding nod is all that I can offer many times, but that glass of water that I retrieve while they wait can mean a world of difference to someone who feels that they are not being heard. We all seek human kindness and understanding, even at the lowest of times.

    I don’t think I would ever be prepared for something like an office shooting or a physical assault on my person, but I like to think that awareness an action plan and an awareness of our available options should the worst come to pass is essential in this day and age. Knowing your surroundings and having a firm grasp on procedures and policies in such events is a great first step in saving yourself and others during an impossible and horrifying situation.

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