Safe Havens International Releases Report on Active Shooter Incident at Arapaho High School

Safe Havens International Releases Report on Active Shooter Incident at Arapahoe High School

 

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This memorial to Arapahoe High School Student Claire Davis stands in Clarity Commons, located in front of Arapahoe High School. This memorial should remind us that advancements in school safety can help reduce the need for more memorials like this across America. This report outlines important and common gaps in school safety that should be addressed before tragedy strikes.

 

Purposes of this Active Shooter Post-Incident Review

On December 13, 2013, an aggressor who was at that time a student at Arapahoe High School (AHS) of Littleton Public Schools (LPS) in Colorado entered the school via an unsecured entrance and fatally shot seventeen-year-old student Claire Esther Davis before killing himself. Like other school attacks, this incident caused immense emotional suffering for many people.

In an effort to gather lessons that LPS and schools around the nation can study to further improve the safety of their schools, and at the request of LPS, the Safe Havens International (SHI) leadership team approved an independent review of this incident as a pro-bono effort for the District. The District not only authorized but actually encouraged SHI to broadly disseminate this report with full knowledge that many of the findings in the report would reflect negatively on their district. LPS personnel indicated that they were willing to accept the potential for additional criticism if it could help prevent future school attacks in other schools.

Eleven SHI analysts and one support staff member agreed to donate their time, talent, and energy to perform this evaluation without any compensation. These analysts are from a variety of disciplines with extensive experience working in the K12 school environment. We selected this as one of this year’s major pro bono projects because the review presented a unique opportunity to further the cause of school safety.   We were able to bring the skills of eleven school safety experts with national and international expertise from a variety of relevant specialty areas into this review, which would normally be cost prohibitive for a normal case review.

Lessons Learned from the Arapahoe High School Active Shooter Incident

The report will help school safety practitioners better understand how a major incident of school violence can occur in spite of significant prevention measures. This report demonstrates how sharing of information, student threat evaluation process, anonymous reporting systems, student disciplinary approaches and law enforcement intervention can be crucial the school violence prevention.

Just as importantly, this report illustrates how rapidly students, school employees and school resource officers can take protective actions to minimize casualties in active shooter incidents. The report demonstrates that the aggressor’s attack plan essentially failed because of the quick reactions of AHS custodian Fabian Vidrio Llerenas, head librarian Tracy Murphy, other AHS staff and students, as well as Deputy Englert of the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office.

While this incident involves a K12 public high school, there are important lessons that have significant relevance to institutions of higher learning as well as other campuses and facilities.

The Release of the Report

In most cases, we perform this type of incident review as part of a legal case such as a lawsuit by the victim’s family against the district. In this case, the review is being done as part of an arbitration brought by the family of Claire Esther Davis with the purpose of improving school safety through lessons learned. The arbitration is resulting in three separate independent reports, including this one. At the direction of the arbitrator, SHI has publicly released our independent report today. The two other groups of experts are also scheduled to release their reports today as well. Along with the authors of the two other reports, I will be providing a live briefing of the Safe Havens report for the LPS School Board on January 21st, 2016. Each group will provide another live briefing their report of findings to the Interim School Safety on Youth in Crisis on January 22nd, 2016 at the Colorado State Capitol.

Gratitude

Eleven SHI analysts and one support staff member agreed to donate more than 1,000 hours of staff time to review nearly 10,000 pages of documents to help the LPS determine opportunities for improvement as well as strengths in how the district was addressing school security at the time of the incident. I would like to express my gratitude for the selfless service of the following SHI team members who assisted in this effort:

Phuong Nguyen William Miller
Steve Satterly Chris Dorn
Dr. Sonayia Shepherd Tod Schneider
Dr. Tina Brookes Russell Bentley
Rod Ellis Ulric Bellaire
Rachel Wilson

 

These individuals worked tirelessly without any compensation to review this case, conduct research and prepare our report of findings.   We also appreciate the cooperation of personnel from LPS throughout this process.

 

Download the Arapahoe High School Active Shooter Post-Incident Review here

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Safe Havens Analyst Found Story of successful school lockdown

A Safe Havens analyst found this story of a successful school lockdown in 1900 while conducting research for a school security assessment for a Connecticut school district.

A couple of weeks ago, I was running school crisis scenarios as part of a large school security assessment project for faith-based schools. A teacher who was participating in the scenarios told us that he had been taken hostage in his school in the early 1990’s. After we finished with the scenario evaluation, our team had an extended conversation with the teacher. We found this to be extremely helpful, learning important details of the case. For example, the teacher had responded to the classroom because he was part of the school’s crisis team. Not being aware that a student was holding a room full of students hostage, he walked into the room. Once he realized that the student was holding a handgun, he moved towards the student in an attempt to disarm him. He told us that the student quickly produced a second handgun and pointed both firearms at him. Realizing that he had made a serious mistake, the teacher began talking to the student and was able to get him to release all of the students in the classroom. With the assistance of an administrator, the teacher was able to persuade the student to put down both guns and surrender. A Safe Havens analyst found this story of a successful school lockdown in 1900 while conducting research for a school security assessment for a Connecticut school district.

The 24 hour news cycle and school safety

Prior to the active shooter event at Pearl High School in Mississippi, school active shooter incidents rarely garnered extensive national media coverage. Media coverage relating to school shootings is now extensive. However, we regularly learn of major school safety incidents that have previously gone unnoticed outside the communities where they occur. As but one example, last year David Woodward from the Indiana School Safety Specialist’s Academy forwarded a copy of a newspaper article about a 1960 shooting rampage in his state. In this case, an elementary school principal opened fire in his school with a shotgun. Even though two teachers were killed, we have never before seen this incident listed in any report on school shootings. Had a School Safety Specialist from Indiana not tripped up on the event and passed it on to Director Woodward, few people outside the community would be aware of this tragedy.

Myths can kill

There are now many myths about school safety that result in ineffective strategies, dangerous experimental approaches and other negative outcomes. These often reduce the actual level of safety in schools. The dangerous claim that school lockdowns are ineffective combined with the significant number of injuries and pending litigation relating to one popular options-based active shooter training program demonstrate this concern. Since myths can and do result in injuries and deaths, educators and public safety officials should work diligently to address the range of school violence issues, not just those that garner the most media coverage.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting – Early Lessons

The Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting is the fourth K-12 Active Shooter Incident since Sandy Hook, according the the current FBI definition of an Active Shooter Incident.

As with any such incident, the information that has come out has shifted.  As of the time of this posting there are two dead, including the shooter, and four wounded, three of them critically.

A lone gunman entered the cafeteria and targeted a group of students. After shooting his targets, he reportedly shot himself in the head.  Local news coverage showed a student describing what she went through on the other side of the school.  She stated that the fire alarm went off, and that the students evacuated, but were then told they were in lockdown.  They had to return to the school.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School is a large school of over 2,000 students. This story exemplifies the chaos that often accompanies these terrible incidents.  Prior planning can help schools deal with chaos, and maintain a higher state of order that can help save lives.

Of interest is the location of the shooting.  A school cafeteria is an open, unsecured area that requires special considerations when planning to respond to events like this.  Safe Havens International teaches a protocol called Room Clear that would have been very useful in this situation.

Room Clear involves students quickly and safely exiting a room or area to a pre-arranged place of safety.  In classrooms, it is very useful for removing students from the source of violent or emotional outbursts.  In this type of situation, Room Clear could be used to get students from the cafeteria to an area of safety.

The use of this protocol, like others, requires planning and practice. It also requires the understanding that various situations for which Room Clear can be used may happen.  This requires that planning occur now, that practice using it occur now.  Room Clear will not prevent an Active Shooter Incident, or any other incident. What it can do is remove students from a source of danger, and get them to a place of safety.

Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting

Police in North Carolina practice clearing a school hallway, similar to what was done today during the Marysville-Pilchuck High School Shooting.