Sandy Hook Report Confirms Lesson Learned on School Safety and Surviving a Mass Shooting

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A report on the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting issued by the State of Connecticut, Division of Criminal Justice, confirms lessons learned with regard to both school safety and surviving a mass shooting.  The report released a few weeks before the first anniversary of the massacre detailed Adam Lanza’s homicidal attack which left 20 children and two adults dead in the second worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The 44-page report cited multiple instances where school safety procedures--and specifically, actions taken during the lockdown--saved numerous lives.  The report stated that on either side of the classrooms which were breached by the shooter, “Staff and students hid in the class restrooms, locking the doors from the inside.” Lockdown drills have been practiced by districts across the nation since Columbine and successfully utilized to reduce the victimization in multiple school shootings.  Further evidence of successful lockdown procedures used at Sandy Hook were also cited, noting “The staff used various ways to keep the children calm, from reading to having them color or draw pictures.”

In addition to acknowledging the success of tested school safety practices, the report confirmed evidence of how to survive a mass shooting.  Exiting from the scene is always the preferred method of survival, and state officials noted several instances when this tactic was utilized by survivors of the horrific incident.  The reported stated that, in a manner strikingly similar to the events at Columbine High School, “Some people were able to escape out of the building prior to the police arrival and went to Sandy Hook center, nearby residences, or received rides from parents going to the school or passersby.”  In classroom #10 where two teachers and five students died, “nine children had run out of the room and survived.”

In the book Mass Shootings: Six Steps to Survival the ESCAPE model is presented:

Exit, when possible without presenting a target

Seek cover to protect yourself from harm

Conceal yourself from the offenders

Assess all alternatives

Present a small target and

Engage, only as a last resort

The Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice’s report on the Sandy Hook shooting not only affirmed the need to exit quickly and remain a safe distance from the building, but also the need to seek cover and concealment.  During the shooting spree one teacher who was injured in the attack sought cover by “retreating into a classroom,” while other student protected themselves by hiding in restrooms. As the report noted, “A police officer found two uninjured children in the class restroom.”

Others involved in the tragedy sought concealment and survived.  “Several staff members had taken shelter in the office” the report noted, and remained hidden out of the shooter’s line of sight as he walked into the office and then out again.  There are not exact figures on the number of individuals who survived using concealment as a tactic, but the report did say that “Throughout the rest of the school, staff and students hid themselves wherever they happened to be at the time they became aware of the gunfire.”

While exiting, finding cover, and seeking concealment were the primary responses to the shooting at the school, at least one teacher assessed their alternatives and then decided to play dead until the shooter passed; she was able to crawl away undetected.  The Sandy Hook report detailed the response in the following manner, “The staff member felt a gunshot hit the staff member’s leg.  Once down, the staff member was struck again by additional gunfire, but laid still in the hallway.  Not seeing anyone in the hallway, the staff member crawled back into room 9 and held the door shut.”  On numerous occasions during past mass shooting events, individuals played dead and survived the attacks.

It is not clear in the report if anyone actively engaged the shooter during the attack or simply presented themselves and were gunned down.  It is clear, however, that at least three people heard “loud banging,” and went to investigate, and two were killed and one injured.  In an act of serendipity the injured party called 911 and at some point during the call inadvertently activated the school-wide intercom system, effectively notifying the rest of the building and commencing the lockdown.

While some may question the need for such an extensive and expensive investigation into a case which was “closed” on the day of the event, the information presented in the report confirms important lessons learned.  They are lessons with vital survival techniques which--if embraced by the general population--should help to mitigate the damage done by this uniquely American phenomenon, the mass shooter.