Staying Left of Bang Offsets the Active Shooter

On February 14, 2018, an Active Shooter Incident (ASI) was implemented at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. This incident is the new Valentine’s Day massacre. A day associated with love and happiness was overcome by the hate and rage of Nikolas Cruz.

The shooter was on a mission. Cruz returned to his former school armed with his recently purchased assault rifle. Armed and dangerous Cruz remained Left of Bang until he fired his first shot. As Cruz fired his weapon he was at point zero and those present were now Right of Bang.

Within minutes, 17 people were killed and 14 wounded. An untold amount of students, faculty, and parents are victims bearing an emotional scar which will remain a part of their lives forever. This shooting and the others before it would never have occurred if the shooter was kept Left of Bang.

Left of Bang is the title of a book co-authored by Patrick Van Horne and Jason Riley. The book’s title is a reference to the timeline of the use of deadly force. “Bang” is when the shooter begins to fire, the attack of unsuspecting people begins. On a timeline moving from left to right, “right of bang” is what happens after the shooting begins. On this day people ran and others attempted to hide as the fallen were either killed or seriously wounded.

Therefore, law enforcement, learning institutions, the legislature, mental health experts, and all segments of society must interact as one to ensure we stay “left of bang” in all cases, but even more so when dealing with people showing signs of severe mental health issues. An individual believed to be a danger to himself or others must receive the appropriate treatment. These people require medical attention. Each potential shooter stays left of bang with intervention and oversight. Our society as a whole must be alert, ready, prepared, and able overcome a potential shooter prior to this person being able to reach “Bang.”

Left of Bang is a military concept which has tremendous value to law enforcement because it’s in sync with the Five Phases of the Active Shooter.

During the first phase, the potential shooter expresses his ideas and thoughts of his intentions. The news media has reported Cruz made his intentions known to shoot-up the school. These statements were only thoughts, but in time we would learn it was the beginning of what was yet to come. Cruz may have only required medical attention at this phase. Although a concern, Cruz was not an immediate threat, he was Left of Bang.

The second phase is when the potential shooter’s thoughts change into an action plan. A plan of attack is developed. Cruz chose what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. Cruz is still left of bang, but becoming dangerously close to “bang.” Cruz is still left of bang because he has yet to initiate his plan. Cruz thoughts lead to the formation of his plan of attack he acted out in his head. Intervention at this phase likely would have led to Cruz being arrested and receiving proper medical attention. Cruz needs a weapon to carry out his plan

The third phase occurred when Cruz prepared himself to carry out his plan with the purchase of an AR-15 rifle. Three days after Cruz was expelled from school he purchased the weapon he would use when he returned to the school on Valentine’s Day. Cruz is now armed and dangerous. He has a plan and the means to carry out his plan. And yet he remains Left of Bang.

It is common for an active shooter to act out because he feels he is the victim. The actions taken by Cruz suggests he felt victimized by the school and was justified to act out against those who injured him. The shooter is self-justified.

The first three phases of the active shooter is when a behavioral analysis of the potential shooter is most advantageous to stopping an ASI before it begins. The shooter is not prepared to initiate his attack until he reaches the fourth and fifth stages. And sadly, it is now known numerous warning signs were present requiring Cruz be investigated. The FBI itself took ownership for not initiating a prompt follow-up of Cruz.

The fourth and fifth phases work simultaneously together. This is the point of no return. It’s Valentine’s Day. The shooter is now approaching his target. Once the shooter is in place he will be at point zero. Once any shooter fires the first shot, “Bang” immediately changes over to “right of bang.” The school, police, all emergency services, the community, and the news media are now in response mode as people are being shot.

Cruz is not the first former student with obvious mental health issues to engage in an ASI after being removed from the school setting. Nikolas Cruz was expelled, Jared Loughner was suspended, and James Holmes’ mental state deteriorated that he withdrew from school because he could not function in school. Loughner and Holmes went “right of bang” within their community.

On January 8, 2011, Jared Loughner shot U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and eighteen others during a meeting held in a supermarket parking lot in Casas Adobes, Arizona. Six people died, including a federal District Court Chief Judge, one of Giffords’ staffers; and a nine-year-old girl.

On July 20, 2012, James Holmes murdered 12 people and wounded 70 others at a Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Holmes also had booby-trapped his apartment with explosives, which were defused one day later by a bomb squad.

The common denominator among Cruz, Loughner, and Holmes is that all three showed signs of suffering from a severe form of mental illness while in school. In time Cruz, Loughner, and Holmes deteriorated to a level each of them engaged in an ASI after leaving the school. Each of them could not function properly within the school setting.

Cruz, Loughner, and Holmes have created a new role for school administrators. It is a common practice to remove a student from school when he is showing signs he possibly may be a danger to himself, fellow students, or the faculty. This practice needs to be amended. If a school administrator is removing a student from the school due to the student being a potential threat to others then the school must contact the appropriate outside agency to ensure the community as well as the school is not in danger. Cruz, Loughner, and Holmes have demonstrated by their actions that intervention and guidance by the community.

School administrators cannot abandon the concept of loco parentis. The school functions in the place of a parent. The school needs to ensure the student is provided a support base to address his mental state once the student needs to function outside of the school setting.

Nickolas Cruz returned to his school. Jared Loughner shot Senator Gabby Gifford and others, and James Holmes shot theatregoers attending the opening showing of Batman. All three required a behavioral analysis by an outside agency. That did not happen. All three of them were “Left of Bang.” In time they would be “right of bang.” As a society, we need to keep all potential active shooters, not just those showing signs of severe mental illness Left of Bang!

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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 40 years in varying capacities, culminating as an administrator in the role of Executive Officer, Public Information Officer, Accreditation Officer, Incident Commander, 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 is an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.