Information Will Stop an Active Shooter Incident

Ten people were killed and another 10 wounded when a fellow student opened fire at Santa Fe High School in Texas. These are the hard facts. What is not factual are reports this shooting was implemented at a higher level than past Active Shooter Incidents (ASIs).

It must be understood that an ASI is a plan of attack implemented over a period of time. An ASI is not an impulsive act. An ASI is personal in nature. The Active Shooter (AS) senses his actions are self-justified. Often an AS commits suicide after implementing his plan.

It is known the Santa Fe shooter, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, 17, maintained a journal of his thoughts and plans. This is a common practice by an individual planning to carry out an ASI. It is also known Pagourtzis, deployed and utilized improvised explosive devises (IEDs) along with utilizing a shotgun and revolver.

The use of the IEDs has occurred prior to the Santa Fe ASI. The two stand-out ASIs where IEDs were in place are the Columbine ASI, 1999, and the Aurora Theatre Shooting, 2012. These incidents clearly demonstrate multiple weapons along with the use of IEDs is more common than realized.

A potential AS researches his predecessors. This falls within the planning stage. It appears Dimitrios Pagourtzis identified with the Columbine Shooters. Pagourtzis dressed in a similar fashion to the Columbine shooters, he utilized IEDs and fired both a shotgun, and a revolver creating carnage as he actively killed people. Pagourtzis successfully implemented his IEDs, the Columbine shooters did not activate their IEDs as planned.

harden targets

(Public domain)

The Five Stages an Active Shooter passes through before an attack is initiated are:

First Stage – Fantasy: A potential attacker may express thoughts about what he wants to do. At this stage, thinking about something is not a criminal offense. This person is not engaged in a criminal act, but he is on his way to becoming dangerous if his thoughts persist.

Second Stage – Planning: At this stage the fantasy becomes reality. The AS is now determining what needs to be done to be successful in carrying out his attack. This person will spend significant time on his computer researching predecessors, documenting what steps need to be taken to accomplish the plan as designed.

In the planning stage all thoughts are focused on success. Often a manifesto is created to document all the details of the planned attack. Who, What, When, Where, and How will be addressed. Why may not be known until right before the plan is implemented.

Third Stage – Preparation: The plan is now being tested to insure it will work. This is the phase where the intentions of the attacker are the most noticeable. His conduct has changed over from who he was to who he has become. This is a critical time for intervention by the police. The AS has a plan and is preparing to carry it out.

Fourth Stage – Approach: This is the timeframe whether the attacker is most dangerous. His plan is in place, he is prepared, armed, and dangerous as he proceeds to his target. He is on his way to carry out his plan.

Fifth Stage – Implementation: An ASI is initiated without hesitation once the AS reaches his target. This is when the killing begins. Unfortunately, quite often, the police are routinely notified when people are in the process of being murdered. Often the ASI is over prior to the arrival of the police. The AS is aware the police will be responding. The plan must be carried out prior to the arrival of law enforcement.

active shooter incident

Active shooter training at the Presidio in Monterey, Calif. (Photo by Steven L. Shepard, Presidio of Monterey Public Affairs)

The value of information now comes to the forefront. Information must be shared with a local law enforcement agency about a person of interest to enable law enforcement to conduct a pro-active investigation. It is best to enable law enforcement to investigate a potential AS during the Fantasy, Planning, and Preparation stages. This is the time frame the potential AS shows himself to those people closest to him due to a change of conduct.

An Active Shooter can be stopped before the shooting begins with the assistance of the school administrators, the public, workplace associates, friends, and family members. It is clear, the law enforcement community can only intervene with the assistance of those closest to a potential AS. Ironically, those closest to a potential AS are the “eyes and ears” of the police department in overcoming an ASI.

The greatest weapon available to stop an ASI and saving lives is information provided to the local police department by the public sector.

To learn more:

Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He is serving with a metro-New York police department for over 30 years in varying capacities, culminating as an administrator in the role of Executive Officer, Public Information Officer, Accreditation Officer, and the Support Services Division. He is a member of ILEETA, IACP, and FBI -LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst and has spoken at police seminars on the topic of Defeating the Active Shooter Before Anybody is Killed. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor at Berkeley College, in New York City. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.