I never want to hear the sound of an AR-15 going off inside a building again. Or a shotgun. Or any gun, for that matter.
Just the reverberation emanated evil as the shooters walked through the first floor of the Administration Building at Guam Community College, calmly firing off shots. The explosion of each bullet penetrates to your very core, violating not only your eardrums, but your entire being. The shooters tried to open doors in order to find potential victims. When they did, a simple “OK, you guys are dead” finished them off.
That was the scenario on Mar. 19, at GCC during our active shooter drills in the admin building and in several classrooms. It’s the third time that Sgt. Vince Naputi and his cadre of Superior Court marshals has provided the college with training that we pray we never have to use.
Before the drills, Sgt. Naputi relayed some statistics: Since 2013, there have been four preschool shootings, 18 elementary, six middle, 64 high school, and 78 shootings at colleges or universities in the United States. Active shooter incidents generally last between two to eight minutes. “I’ll be honest with you,” said Naputi, “it’s you guys that are going to deal with this. By the time law enforcement arrives, the incident is usually over.”
So what to do. First, if you can, run. Several people in our building wedged a chair up against their office door, then ninja’d their way out their first floor window and ran to a safe zone. Naputi tells students to put on their backpacks, because if you are running away from the shooter, the books or your laptop in your pack may stop a bullet.
If you can’t run, hide. People hid under desks, blocked doors that couldn’t be locked with file cabinets, desks, whatever they could use. Two really valuable points that Sgt. Naputi relayed to us in an earlier session were that you can use a backpack or a purse to prevent the shooter from opening a door. Twist the purse handles or backpack top loop around the doorknob and then sit down on the ground, pulling the purse or backpack away from the door along the wall at a low angle, and have another person hang onto you. Make a chain of people on the ground holding each other. Naputi said they did it with elementary school students, and the shooter, a grown man, could not breach the door being held by a chain of five children. Also, you can use a shoe as a door stopper. Just shove the tip of the shoe (ladies’ wedge shoes or zoris work well) underneath a door that opens inward, and the shooter will not be able to open it. If he does, crouch down and use a backpack or your laptop to shield yourself.
If you cannot run or hide, the last resort is to fight. Come at the shooter with whatever you have – throw books, office tools or whatever. I was teasing a coworker that she could take off one of her spiked high heels and stab the shooter with it.
Seconds count, Naputi says. Any delay can save your life.
Naputi does not recommend arming teachers. When you are in a violent encounter, he says your sympathetic nervous system can elevate your heart rate to a point where you can lose fine motor skills, complex motor skills, or even gross motor skills (meaning you just freeze up). If you are not trained to use a weapon during a violent encounter, he says there is no telling what your reaction could be. So a teacher just going to a firing range to get training on how to shoot a gun is not going to cut it. Also, most teachers I have spoken with are against this option for many reasons.
Yes, it is scary that we have to think like this. But the statistics are real. And in 2001, we had an active shooter situation at the Seventh Day Adventist Clinic, where the shooter killed his estranged wife and a coworker and wounded four others before police shot him.
We can’t prevent every person filled with rage from picking up a gun. What we can do is to be prepared, and be on the lookout. Not so much for people with weapons, but for people who are loners, who feel outcast, who are troubled. In a school setting, encourage other students to include them. Stop bullying when you see it. Often these shooters (most of them are male) are suffering some type of emotional trauma. Promoting simple human kindness may make the difference between someone talking about their troubles or spraying people with AR-15 bullets.
Like I said, I never want to hear that sound again. And for me, it was only training. Too many people know the evil of that sound for real.
Jayne Flores is a long-time journalist. She currently works at Guam Community College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org