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

L.A. Schools canceled due to threats

_MG_6255In what is probably an unprecedented move, the Los Angeles Unified School District today decided to cancel all classes in response to information received last night. While not much information is being released, it would be safe to assume that:

  • The decision to cancel school by LAUSD was a difficult one that had to be made under time pressure.
  • School officials had to consider the psychological effects of closing (or not closing) school, the logistics of business operations as well as the possibility of encouraging copycat attacks.
  • The decision to cancel school was almost certainly a last resort, since other options are available for responding to this type of threat. These options would include an elevated police presence at all schools, a search of all schools while they are still in session or other measures adapted to the situation.

This incident also brings to question the balance that we must always seek between security and maintaining our mission of education. A few past incidents come to mind that demonstrate the complex and difficult decisions that must be made when responding to threats:

 

For more information on the nuances of bomb threat management and response to these types of threats, download “Bomb Threat Basics” by Michael Dorn.

History repeats itself -School Sword Attack Results in Multiple Casualties

Sword attack

This still photo taken from a school crisis video scenario for the First 30 Seconds series depicts a man initiating an attack with a sword at a school. Focusing too intently on mass casualty school shootings can leave staff woefully unprepared for other types of attack methodologies.

A violent school sword attack in Trollhattan, Sweden left a teacher and a student dead, another student wounded and many other staff, students and parents traumatized. This incident reminds us that no country is immune to horrific school violence and that prevention and preparedness measures should not be focused solely on attacks with firearms. Blades have long been a weapon of choice for school attacks in Japan, China, the United States and a number of other countries. While there have also been mass casualty shootings and fire attacks, edged weapons attacks at elementary schools in the People’s Republic of China in the past decade have resulted in hundreds of serious injuries and fatalities. In one attack, twenty-eight elementary children were stabbed with a butcher knife. Fourteen children were murdered with a butcher knife in another attack. Twenty-one students were also wounded with a butcher knife in a Chinese primary school on the same day as the terrible mass casualty school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Last summer, our video unit spent a day filming a wide variety of school crisis scenarios involving school weapons incidents. They filmed single victim shootings, hostage situations, several active shooter scenarios, and a scenario depicting a school sword attack in a classroom. We included this scenario because of actual incidents in the United States. For example, a school bus was high jacked by a student armed with a sword in Nevada and an attacker attempted to behead a Georgia high school principal with a machete in 1990.

I have gone to great pains to provide a rational perspective when it comes to mass casualty attacks in American schools. We have documented that more than twenty people die from other causes for every fatality from K12 active shooter events. I have also emphasized how rare these events are. At the same time, I have repeatedly cautioned that these types of attacks will continue. I also believe that we have likely not seen the most lethal weapons assaults nor the most gruesome attacks we could see. The most gruesome and the most lethal attacks on American schools thus far occurred in 1764 and 1958 respectively.   As we have seen many times with school attacks, history often does repeat itself.

With intensive media coverage, internet discussion of mass casualty attacks and other contributing factors, we are assured to see more of these tragic incidents at home and abroad. Considering the broad array of school attack methodologies we have repeatedly seen such as the use of guns, edged weapons, fire, vehicles and hazardous materials can help us better prevent, prepare for and recover from these tragic events that have been taking place in schools for more than two centuries.