“IF NOT ME, THEN WHO?”
Paul J. Mendofik
Beslan, Russia September 1-3, 2004.
One of the most horrific acts of School
Violence seen by the world in modern times:
A trained group
of Chechen separatists, armed with explosives
and other weapons took control of the Beslan School corralling
over 1,000 children and adults. This act of Terrorism
cost the lives of more than 300 children and left countless
secondary victims and others living with the emotional
Over the three days of the stand-off people
were tortured, murdered and raped. They were deprived of
of the oppressive heat, drank their own urine to quench
their insatiable thirst.
When an explosive device unintentionally
detonated, the Terrorists believed an assault had taken
place. They began
killing more of their captives. Russian Special Forces
took intervening action and for hours, engaged in a firefight
that displayed the untold sacrifices and forfeiture of
Warrior lives to save as many of the children as possible.
Living the Spetsnaz credo,“If not me, then who?”,
some forfeited their life.
Thanks to John Giduck (www.antiterrorism.org) we have
as factual an account of this tragedy as can be publicly
Platte Canyon High School, Bailey, Colorado,
September 28, 2006.
Duane Morrison, 53 years of age, enters
Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado. Dressed
in a hooded sweat-shirt
and jeans he proceeds through the school with purpose.
An alert student goes to the administrative office and
warns of this individual who “does not seem like
he belongs here”. Upon entering Room 206 he displays
a handgun and orders all males to exit the room. When one
male refuses, he points the weapons in his direction and
states he will kill him if he refuses. After the male departs,
the female teacher refuses to leave when instructed to
do so. Morrison fires a shot into the ceiling to demonstrate
his resolve. The female teacher departs and rushes to alert
the administrative office.
Law enforcement responders arrive within minutes only
to be confronted by Morrison using several of the female
students as human shields. A stand-off begins as additional
resources begin to arrive. In total, nearly 300 personnel
will be on scene to aid the Park County Sheriffs Office.
Over the next four hours, he will sexually assault a number
of the six, 16 and 17 year old hostages. As negotiations
play out, four of the girls will be released. Morrison
will also claim he has explosives with him and he will
detect the sounds of special units trying to obtain a tactical
advantage and intelligence.
As a deadline approaches and a rescue-entry plan is made
the officers outside of the room report screams coming
from the remaining females. The rescue-entry order is given
and multiple entries occur simultaneously.
During the ensuing exchange of fire Morrison fatally wounds
seventeen year old Emily Keyes before he is killed by law
A community is experiencing a tragedy. The students, faculty
and support staffs are in shock. The assembled parents
and loved ones are both relieved and in mourning.
Midland, Michigan March 7, 2007
She had been dropped off at school that morning by her
mother who was still in the parking area as her 17 year
old daughter entered the school. Her 17 year old boyfriend
was not allowed to enter the school. As he tried to do
so, he was turned away by alert school officials.
Outside, in the parking lot, he would call her cell phone
convincing her to exit the safety of the school. As she
approached, her mother would watch in bewilderment. The
teen would pull a handgun from his backpack, shooting the
girl four times before taking his own life. Her mother
would make a valiant intervention effort to save her daughters
life by driving her car between the two. The female victim
Foss High School, Tacoma, Washington, January
Shortly after returning to school from Christmas
break a seventeen year old is shot in the hallway.
Weston, Wisconsin September 29, 2006
A disgruntled young 15 year old would come
into the Weston High School armed with a shotgun. Realizing
to the student body, Principal John Klang puts his
life at risk to intervene. As he tried to disarm the 15
old, he would be killed by the shotgun blast. Others
would overpower and disarmed him prior to the law enforcement
Tampa, Florida, May
Two Saudi men board a school bus, raising suspicion and
response by various law enforcement authorities including
Another time, in Hoboken New Jersey, a 48 year old school
administrator is killed by a man who mistakenly believed
his wife was having an affair with him.
These are only a few illustrations
of the more than four-hundred deaths which have occurred
in schools in the United States
and school related Terrorism occurring in other countries.
While these domestic incidents are a statistically snapshot
of events recorded by the National School Safety Center
(www.nssc1.org) since 1992, they illustrate a lethal threat
that continues to face us. Truly the likelihood of such
an event is minimal but the consequences are catastrophic.
Who wants to be the School Administrator, law enforcement
head or government official that has to acknowledge, “It
Who are these persons who take lives in and around our
schools? There have been events that have involved adults,
juveniles, males and females. Some have been staff, others
have been community members. Some have been students and
some have been gang members. The most notorious attackers
have been connected with the targeted school and frequently
Examining the attacker information
we find the predominant student characteristic to be
a white male, 14-17 years
of age, family living above the poverty line, suburban
school district. He is often of low self-esteem, has a
close circle of friends whom he narcissistically manipulates
to enhance his ego and aid him in bringing his aggressive
plans to fruition. He is likely not to be involved in “team” functions
(i.e.: sports; band) or community volunteer activities.
He has likely experienced bullying and becomes resentful
of the “haves”…have stuff and have attention.
The victims of such carnage are both male and female.
Pertaining to student victims, we find no gender predominance.
Frequently, Administrators (principals, vice-principals)
are either targeted or attempt to intervene. When this
occurs, the predominant victim gender is male. Faculty
also becomes subjected to the violence of these offenders.
The predominant faculty gender is female.
There is statistical gender predominance in school administration
and faculty. This may account for some of the victim data.
Also a phenomenon associated with nurturing and intervention
may place faculty at greater risk as they take action to
diffuse an event.
Weapons can be configured from anything.
The school attacker may utilize an edged weapon, blunt
object or other instrument.
However, he is most likely to utilize a firearm - their
preference being a handgun or a shotgun. The shotgun of
choice is a 12 gauge pump-action model. Explosives may
be used as a threat but are rarely a reality…at this
Human behavior is often predictable
and based on learned outcomes resulting from actions
taken. Some have dubbed
it “criminal profiling” others have called
it invasions of privacy. But patterns of action are often
the result of positive stimuli (rewards) that foster repeat
behavior or reinforcement of motivation to enhance the
behavior (“pushing the envelope”). It can have
a positive or negative impact on the affected individuals
in that sphere.
The FBI, the U.S. Secret Service and
the U.S. Department of Education have taken a proactive
step in trying to identify
the potential school attacker. There are a number of behavioral
characteristics common among offenders but patterns are
not sufficient to determine a “profile”.
The research also indicates a number of myths exist pertaining
to those who would carry out such acts. The uninformed
will often miss indicators or signs. In most of the attacks,
there have been plans and others have been aware of pending
overt acts. In western culture there exists a society where
entertainment sources script us to believe forensic evidence
solves homicides in an hour and special weapons abound
to neutralize threats in minutes. These school violence
events rarely last longer than fifteen minutes once they
begin. It is more likely a School Resource Officer (SRO)
or the first available law enforcement officers are going
to be engaging the threats.
When we are trained and aware, proactive
intervening action can be a significant step in reducing
the casualties. Establish
a survival philosophy to enhance your capability to assess
the level of threat and what defensive actions are required.
Get serious about emergency planning. Follow the guidelines
of multi-hazard crisis plans promulgated by the U.S. Department
of Education. Train like it is for real because it just
might be someday. Don’t let yourself be an ostrich
and say it will not happen here. It has happened more than
four-hundred times in fifteen years. Stay current and revise
or update plans and protocols.
How physically secure is your facility? Because planning
is usually involved, overt deterrent means can send a message
to the attacker that success may not be possible. Features
such as keeping doors locked, except through limited entry
points. Any open access area must be monitored by someone.
That individual needs the authority to mandate identification
and compliance with movement within. Without a means to
announce an alarm for non-compliance, their responsibility
is usurped. These entry points will be further enhanced
if aided by electronic monitoring. Even if an intruder
fails to comply with access controls, the recorded entry
image will aid greatly in verifying the legitimacy of that
Other physical features will aid emergency
responders as well. In conjunction with proper authority
numbering system for doors, windows, basement’s and
roof portals. Jointly examine the dynamics of after hour’s
events, such as social functions and sporting events. Pre-designate
staging areas and approach routes.
Evacuation and assembly areas are
frequently assigned based on convenience more than crisis
your plan has not taken into consideration the differences
between a fire event, hazardous device event, armed intruder
event or weather event then your planning may not be adequate.
It is difficult to establish multiple evacuation/assembly
protocols so partner up with your appropriate emergency
responder. You may be able to establish one or two protocols
that will meet most of your crisis reasons to evacuate.
Remember, various factors effect who may be executing your
evacuation signal. So, use the K.I.S.S. principle…Keep
It Short and Simple.
Lastly we have to build confidence
sufficient to allow for flexibility. These situations
do change. They are dynamic.
A plan is the predicted to be the most effective way to
address the crisis but, an unknown may be thrown into the
mix. People need to realize that and feel confident enough
that they can make a decision and have the commitment to
act upon that.
If we have believe this crisis can
come to our school, then we will desire to be prepared.
If we desire to be
prepared, we will train and learn effective strategies
to intervene or mitigate the event. So when we train
and learn, we will contribute to reducing the likelihood
that such events happen where we are. Because, “If
not me, then who.”