Two Students Killed in Southern California High School Shooting
Five students at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA were shot by a lone male gunman on November 14th. Tragically, two of these victims, 14-year-old Dominic Blackwell and 16-year-old Grace Anne Muehlberger, perished as a result of their injuries.
The shooter was a 16-year-old male student, who was dropped off near the front of the school by his mother minutes prior to the shooting. At approximately 7:38 a.m., the shooter walked toward the center of the school, removed a .45 caliber pistol from his backpack, and began shooting at random students nearby. The shooter struck five victims before shooting himself. The shooter later died from his self-inflicted injury. According to the L.A. County Sheriff, the shooting lasted a total of 16 seconds.
Adam Coughran, co-founder of Safe Kids Inc., was invited to appear on Fox 11 News the day after the shooting to provide relevant safety tips related to this incident and other school shootings. To review these safety tips, click here.
Key Learning Points
- The shooter carried out his attack on his birthday. Often, those who commit acts of mass violence choose significant dates to coincide with their attack/s.
- According to several sources, students and teachers at Saugus High School previously participated in “lockdown” drills, however according to students interviewed by CBS 2 News, they had not practiced for an incident occurring outside of classrooms.
- The shooting lasted a total of 16 seconds. This continues to be consistent with the national average of shootings lasting less than 5 minutes, and 2-4 people perishing per minute. Consider taking a moment to set a timer for 16 seconds and mentally rehearse escaping an area of violence in that short time period.
- At this time, the shooter’s motive is unclear. However, it should be noted the shooter’s father died of a heart attack less than two years ago. Often, active shooters experience catastrophic life events prior to an attack. Be aware of students or staff members who experience (or are experiencing) major losses alongside other indicators of violence. To learn 7 behavioral traits that often predicate acts of mass violence, click here.
- Classrooms at Saugus High School were equipped with trauma kits (often referred to as “gunshot kits” or “Stop the Bleed kits”). These kits typically contain a tourniquet, occlusive and hemostatic dressings, rubber gloves, and “space blankets”. A choir teacher used one of these kits to render first aid to a female victim who was shot by the suspect. Consider equipping your school with several trauma kits. For more information on building/purchasing an effective kit and providing training to your staff, please refer to resources provided by Stop the Bleed.
- Many teachers and students inside classrooms did not hear gunshots. Encourage students to rapidly share information about a threat as they escape from the scene. For instance, yelling: “RUN! RUN! RUN! There’s a shooter in the quad!”
- The shooter in this incident used a “ghost gun”; a fully functional firearm built from legally-acquired parts. These kits can be purchased online and modified with household tools. Those who manufacture such weapons often do so because they cannot legally purchase a functioning firearm. Be aware of students watching “ghost gun” video tutorials or engaging in similar research.
Should Teachers Carry Firearms in Schools?
With active shooter incidents consistently appearing in news headlines, some concerned educators have sought to protect themselves by carrying concealed firearms in their classrooms. In Utah, Sheriff Mike Smith began offering firearm safety courses to educators after several firearms brought to school by teachers were abandoned in purses and desks during a lockdown situation. In Sheriff Smith’s own words: “If teachers are carrying guns, well, I want them to know how to use a gun,”.
When considering whether or not teachers should carry concealed firearms on school grounds, it’s critically important to evaluate many factors. Carrying a concealed firearm is a huge responsibility, particularly in an education environment. There are circumstances when educators might consider carrying a concealed firearm at school, but in the opinion of the Safe Kids Inc. team, these circumstances are extremely limited.
The bottom line: a healthy school culture is far more effective than arming teachers when it comes to preventing violence in schools.
Key Learning Points
- Just about every active shooter nurtures a grievance. A healthy school culture can inoculate schools from acts of targeted violence and prevent tragedies that would necessitate arming faculty members.
- Consult local laws and school policy to determine whether or not concealed carry is an option at your school. In addition, consult with insurance providers, legal counsel, and other experts to become fully appraised of the liability ramifications of arming faculty/staff. Additional converge may be needed for negligent discharges of a firearm, wrongful death, workers compensation, and other specialized coverages or policies.
- Firearms should remain concealed on campus. An armed teacher can send conflicting messages to students. Students and teachers should share a relationship of mutual trust and respect. The visual appearance of a firearm may change the student-teacher relationship, in addition to revealing who is armed and who isn’t on a campus.
- A concealed firearm MUST be accompanied by an appropriate mindset and skillset. To use a firearm properly, one must attend proper training and be comfortable and confident in applying deadly force under extreme duress. This includes considering applying deadly force to a known student/s (a potential shooter) and an advanced skillset of shooting accurately in crowded hallways, classrooms, and other education environments.
- Concealed firearms must be carried securely. Unsecured firearms can be accessed by students and may expose educators to criminal charges and significant civil liability.
Do Your Local First Responders Have Keys to Your Campus?
Police in Coral Springs, Florida were frustrated by a lack of access to classrooms after a lockdown incident occurring at the school on November 15th. According to a representative from the Coral Springs Police Department, officers were called to the school at approximately 1 p.m. after an unknown person was seen climbing a fence onto school property. The high school was immediately placed on lockdown, and when police secured the school and attempted to search occupied classrooms, they were unable to locate the necessary keys. As a result, school administrators sent text messages to teachers and requested they unlock their doors so officers could make entry. Many teachers were hesitant to do so because this was a direct violation of the school’s “Code Red” policy.
Key Learning Points
- Review your school’s policies to ensure that reasonable exceptions exist for “exigent circumstances” during emergency situations.
- Contact local law enforcement and provide a set of master keys to the watch commander and each officer assigned to the area. Additionally, ensure a dedicated set of extra master keys is available for use at all times in a place easily accessible to first responders. For instance, a coded lock box can be installed in the school office with a set of master keys locked inside. Remember, you probably won’t have access to school grounds while law enforcement and other first responders are securing the scene. It’s critically important to coordinate campus access with first responders well before an emergency occurs.
- Avoid code words when identifying different emergency situations. Instead, consider incorporating plain terms in policies and drills, such as: “active shooter”, “person with a gun”, “armed intruder”, or “intruder threat”. Code words and terms can become very confusing during a crisis and may not be understood by young students, visitors, and parents.