Teachers Shot “Execution Style” During Active Shooter Drill

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The Indiana State Teachers Association was outraged last month after several teachers were shot “execution style” with plastic pellets during an active shooter training session at their school. The incident occurred in January during a training session at Meadowlawn Elementary, located in an Indiana suburb. The training was hosted by a local sheriff’s department operating on “options-based” training methods created by a private active shooter training company.

Teachers participating in the session were lined up and shot in the back with an airsoft gun – an air-powered gun that shoots plastic pellets slightly larger than a BB. Airsoft pellets leave the barrel at approximately 300 feet per second, about a third of the speed of a .45 caliber pistol round. Several teachers photographed welts and broken skin from the incident and immediately filed a complaint with their local union chapter in addition to worker’s compensation claims. The ISTA is currently seeking to amend mandatory active shooter training legislation to include a provision that would prohibit any teachers from being “shot” with projectiles during active assailant training sessions.

Key Learning Points

  • Active assailant drills should NEVER include airsoft guns or any other methods that could cause physical or psychological harm to educators and participants.
  • Students and/or teachers should NEVER be used as “victims” in drills. This includes using fake blood or other props. By practicing “dying” or being a victim, a mindset of failure is reinforced and can become a default reaction during an actual incident.
  • Hyper-realistic active assailant drills can cause physical injuries and psychological trauma.
  • In Iowa, a school insurance company paid out more than $250,000 in workers’ compensation claims related to active assailant training.
  • Hyper-realistic active assailant drills can alienate staff and unions from administrators and law enforcement, leading to a negative school culture and a breakdown in local community partnerships.

Addressing the Lingering Trauma of Violence

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Last month, two survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and a parent of a child killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook took their own lives. These three tragic losses represent an underreported and often misunderstood subset of victims affected by targeted mass violence.

It is a well-known fact that many survivors of targeted violence suffer from anxiety, depression, and PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder). Left untreated, these varying (but related) manifestations of psychological distress can become overwhelming and lead to feelings of hopelessness, a loss of control, substance abuse, and in extreme cases, suicide. Survivors need support from friends and family to recover from trauma. Implement the following strategies to help a victim of violence overcome their fears and begin to heal:

  • Lend support: Sometimes, a person affected by trauma simply needs to be with someone else. Be patient and be kind. Trauma recovery is not a linear process and there are highs and lows. Understand that some days may be better than others.
  • Get help: Survivors of violence should always seek professional therapy to learn positive cognitive strategies (CBT Therapy) and process the emotions surrounding their trauma. Other therapies, such as EMDR, have been shown to be particularly effective in cases of PTSD. Additionally, survivors may benefit from medication that can help ameliorate some of the physiological symptoms accompanying trauma. In the end, this decision is best left to a survivor’s therapist and physician.
  • Avoid clichés: Telling someone to “just get over it” or “put on a happy face” will often make a survivor feel worse and invalidate their pain. Survivors aren’t simply in a bad mood – they’re experiencing a physiological surge of “survival” chemicals in a counterproductive cyclical process. Instead of giving trite advice, patiently listen and don’t discount their struggle.
  • Be patient: Survivors will often repeat details of a traumatic incident over and over again. It’s important to listen and not tell them to “move on” or “stop living in the past.” Also, understand survivors may exhibit unusual anger that is often directed at friends and family.
  • Be aware: Survivors may experience flashbacks triggered by sights, smells, sounds, or some type of internal trigger (such as hunger or lack of sleep). Understanding their triggers can help you plan appropriate interactions and experiences with them. During a flashback, a survivor may be disconnected from reality and experiencing intense panic. Often, flashbacks and panic episodes can occur during sleep. If you are near a survivor during one of these events, provide a calming presence and a sense of reassurance by explaining that they are not in danger and that the fear will pass. CBT therapy is critical in helping survivors understand panic and flashbacks and how to defuse these types of acute psychological distress.
  • Show love: People experience affection in different ways. If a survivor enjoys long walks, make an effort to accompany them. If they enjoy cooking, encourage them to make a meal for everyone or help make a meal with them. Know their favorite activities and gestures and go out of your way to make them feel appreciated and understood.
  • Encourage routine: By helping a survivor get back into a routine, you can help them reacclimate to life. Often, the simple act of leaving the house can be a huge challenge for a victim of trauma. Encourage them to make small steps toward normalcy every day. And remember, be patient! Some days will be worse than others, and that’s ok.
  • Get connected: Survivors often feel misunderstood and alone and begin to withdraw from normal activities, friends, and family. Encourage them to find a group they can relate to. This may take the form of a sports league, a church group, or a meeting of like-minded survivors. Some may prefer to talk to others about their challenges while others may not. Everyone is different and processes trauma in their own way. Don’t push a survivor to join any group in particular.
  • Be healthy: Encourage survivors to eat healthy and exercise regularly. Physical exercise can help a survivor burn off excess adrenaline and create a positive, goal-seeking mentality.
  • Avoid addictions: Survivors often self-medicate with drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous and addictive behaviors. These types of behaviors are a temporary reprieve from pain but will exacerbate the root problem. Don’t invite a survivor to social settings that encourage addictive behaviors.
  • Don’t quit: Recovery from a traumatic incident can take years. Again, recovery is not a linear process and may feel like two steps forward and one step back. This is to be expected – help them stay the course and make sure to manage your own stress in healthy ways.

For more information on PTSD and its accompanying challenges, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness at nami.org