Another Shooter – But Different Results
It all began when a young man carrying a package requested entry at the LaPierre Elementary School’s main entrance door at 9:15 am last Tuesday.
District policy required the school’s doors to be opened at 8:15 am to admit students and locked at 9:00 am. The doors remained locked during the school day until opened again at 3:15 when classes were dismissed. Admittance between 9 o’clock and 3:15 had to be authorized by office personnel.
The school had a CCTV camera mounted above the entrance along with an intercom system to allow communication between someone requesting admittance and the school’s staff.
The young man claimed to be the older brother of a student and said he needed to give her the package. He gave his name as “Alex Feinstein” and the name of his sister as “Katy.” A quick check of records revealed that while Katy was indeed a fourth-grade student there, she didn’t have a brother named Alex. The staff member alerted the principal.
When they began to question the young man further, he became increasingly angry and finally tore off the brown paper wrapping, revealed a sinister-looking rifle. He shot the glass door several times and it quickly disintegrated into hundreds of glass shards. He stepped through the doorway and into the main hallway.
A shooter was now in the LaPierre Elementary School.
He fired off another three rounds into the admin office windows. He didn’t really aim at anyone, he just wanted to get their attention and show them that he was now in charge. He continued down the main hallway.
Although momentarily caught off guard by the man’s assault on the door and the office, Principal Charlene Heston quickly regained her composure and went to the office wall safe. Pressing her thumb on the biometric reader, the door swung open and she pressed the alarm button. The klaxon began its incessant alarm – every two seconds, another raspy squawk.
Immediately after sounding the alarm, Principal Heston retrieved her Glock 19 pistol from the safe. Now, she too was armed. Her administrative assistant called 911 and told the operator that an armed intruder had shot out the school’s main exterior door, entered the school, and fired into the office. He was plainly visible on the hallway surveillance camera.
The klaxon startled everyone at the school - teachers and students alike. The noise could be heard a block away, even alarming the school’s neighbors. Several more 911 calls were placed and they were told that the police had already been dispatched.
The office staff could see the shooter on the CCTV monitor as he approached the first classroom door.
Principal Heston went to the school’s intercom and announced that there was a lockdown in effect, that it was not a drill, and that there was a “red package” in the main hallway approaching room 100. The code words “red package” meant that there was an armed shooter in the main hallway. Now all of the teachers and staff knew what Principal Heston already knew ...
Something was very wrong at the school.
Since the Sandy Hook incident, security in the Wayne Independent School District was upgraded to prevent a similar tragic incident. Parents, teachers, and principals came together with security consultants to develop plans to make the schools safer while keeping any new components as unobtrusive as possible. No one wanted to create an atmosphere of fear or apprehension in the minds of the children.
In a perfect world, there would be no need to weigh safety against education, schools would provide surroundings best suited to facilitate learning, yet remain insulated from violence.
But we don’t live in a perfect world.
By the time the principal’s announcement came, teachers were already locking their classroom doors and drawing the shade covering the window. They turned the classroom lights off, and calmed their students, reassuring them that they would be safe, and proceeded to carry out the school’s lockdown drill.
The teachers quickly assembled the children at the end of the classroom farthest from the door. Where a closet or coatroom was available, the kids were ushered inside. When a coatroom or closet wasn’t available, they instructed the students to sit on the floor facing away from the door. Several desks were moved to shield the group from sight and those teachers who were not part of the school’s “armed militia” joined the children on the floor.
After securing their students, four of the teachers immediately went to their in-wall safes. Like the principal, those teachers had volunteered to undergo training and secure a Concealed Handgun License (CHL). They were also individually authorized by local authorities to carry a handgun on school grounds.
A thumb on the biometric reader quickly opened the door and seconds later all four teachers had retrieved their handguns. They retreated to their defensive positions as directed by the school’s security plan.
Not all classrooms were identical (there were several different layouts) and the security consultants had recommended specific defensive positions based on each classroom’s layout.
The armed teachers were positioned to shoot (if necessary) from a location that provided the best visual assessment of anyone entering the classroom yet also yielded a sight picture that did not endanger the students. They were also located to draw an intruder’s attention away from the children.
Since the LaPierre School had outward-opening classroom doors (swinging into the hall), anyone entering the classroom would be framed by the door opening and not obscured by an open door.
An outward-opening door is more resistant to forced entry from kicking or throwing weight against the door (from the outside). Brute force entry was not likely to be successful, but if the assailant did finally breach the door, the violence was evidence enough that the individual was a dangerous aggressor and if he/she were armed, lethal force would be justified.
If an assailant attempted entry by shooting the door’s locking mechanism (not as easy as movies would have us believe), that act alone identified the entrant as an armed aggressor and once again, lethal force was justified.
Alex tried the first classroom door, it was locked and he couldn’t see into the classroom. He moved on the next classroom, it was also locked. He tried a third – locked too. He crossed to the other side of the hall and tried another room. No entry there either.
Already highly stressed, Alex became incensed at his failure to get into a classroom. He fired five rounds into the door in the area of the lock of classroom 105.
Even with the klaxon blaring, in the otherwise quiet and empty hallway, those five shots sounded like sonic booms. Each echoed up and down the long hall. Most of the building’s occupants heard each one, although in later interviews, some reported as few as five shots while others heard as many as ten shots.
The door to 105 still wouldn’t open.
In his current state of anger and frustration he decided to do what he should have done from the start – get the keys from the principal. As he turned to go back to the school’s administrative office, two shots rang out – both missing their target.
In her agitated state, Principal Heston had missed her first two shots, but a third didn’t miss. Alex was hit in the left thigh by the principal’s third 9mm jacketed hollow point (JHP) round.
He was totally unprepared for this; no one was supposed to shoot him!
She was partially concealed behind the door to the admin offices but had now been spotted by the shooter. As he raised his AK-47, he slumped, almost falling. His left leg was rebelling. It didn’t take kindly to the damage done by the principal’s JHP bullet. He regained his balance and fired the AK twice in the direction of Principal Heston. He was so shaky both missed.
The principal fired three more shots in the next two seconds. This time, using the door jamb to steady her aim, the results were better and two hit the gunman: one in his chest and the other in his right shoulder. This time he went down.
He was still moving, but he had dropped his weapon and was writhing on the floor, moaning and bleeding profusely. He didn’t appear to have any more fight left in him.
The principal remained in her position, her Glock still aimed at the gunman. She instructed her assistant to call Mrs. Brady in 108 and tell her that the shooter was down and ask her to carefully come into the hall with her weapon ready to help cover the downed assailant until police arrived.
Shaking, but still vigilant, Charlene Heston finally began to relax a little. She told her assistant, Miss Pelosi, to turn off the alarm and announce that the school was secure and the teachers should comfort the children, assuring them that they were all safe.
The lockdown was still active so all doors must remain locked and no one should leave their defensive positions. The lockdown would remain in place until the police arrived and secured the premises. They would issue an official “all clear,” only then would the lockdown status be lifted.
After several minutes of a continuously blaring klaxon and the sounds of a firefight filling the school’s hall, the silence was welcome.
Less than seven minutes had elapsed since the gunman first rang the entry buzzer. Seven minutes that could have turned out very different.
It was 9:22 and the kids were safe; no one had been injured (except the bad guy). The good guy (woman) with a gun stopped the bad guy with a gun – fancy that.
In this story, I’ve tried to paint a picture that represents what could happen if teachers were allowed to voluntarily possess a handgun on a school campus.
I’ve tried to depict a more or less realistic scenario, but I acknowledge that some will find fault with parts of the story. The narrative is as realistic as I could make it – I even clocked the time it would have taken for each of the actions, so the seven minutes is fairly accurate. But, it may not be perfect and some will pose questions.
Where’d Alex get the AK? Does it matter? If he’d been successful in gaining entry to a classroom full of children, would they have been any less dead or injured if the weapon was legally obtained rather than stolen or bought on the black market?
Principal Heston fired six shots and missed three times. Frankly, though I’m a pretty good shot (at the range), I doubt that, under stress and given the circumstances, that I could do better.
Alex couldn’t hit anything except doors and windows. The only time he fired directly at anyone was when attempting to fire back at the principal and his shaky left leg and stress at being hit contributed to his errant shots. In a classroom with the children concentrated in a small area, he would have scored more hits. Thank God he never had the chance. Additionally, most information I’ve seen describes criminals as notoriously poor shots. Is it any wonder the way that “gangstas” hold their handguns? Spray and pray.
If one of the classrooms that he tried had been unlocked, the outcome would have been different. That’s true. If the unfortunate classroom was one with an unarmed teacher, it could have been another Sandy Hook. It the teacher had been armed, the result could more closely parallel the one I’ve described. I feel sure that an armed teacher would fire on an intruder coming into his/her classroom carrying a firearm.
An armed guard could have brought the incident to a quick resolution. Maybe, maybe not. That would depend on the individual, his/her training, commitment, and most importantly, where he/she was when the episode began. If the guard was distant when the alarm sounded and the announcement was made (describing where the shooter was at the time), it could have taken minutes for the guard to arrive and confront the shooter.
How many other weapons did the shooter have on his person, how many “high-capacity” magazines? Did that matter? He was found to have a Beretta 92FS 9 mm pistol with two additional 15 round magazines, as well as two loaded 30 round magazines (standard for the AK), in his pockets.
In total, he was carrying 135 rounds of potentially lethal ammunition. What if he hadn’t been carrying any additional magazines? Oh well, then he could only have murdered or wounded 45 kids. Suppose all of the magazines had been 10 round magazines (including the AK), then he would have had only 60 rounds with which to do his dastardly deed – feel better now?
There are undoubtedly scores of other good questions, feel free to add them via comments.
This is an important topic – a topic touching on the safety of our children as well as our right to possess the means for our self-protection.
It needs to be discussed logically and realistically. A “knee jerk” enactment of yet more laws affecting only law-abiding citizens will not solve the problem.
Wake up gun-control people - law-abiding citizens are not the problem – law breakers are.
Somewhere, at this moment, someone may be planning a similar attack; intent on acting out some deranged script. How or why they are so out-of-kilter escapes sane people who try to make some sense, find some reason, to understand why anyone would want to do something as loathsome as attacking our defenseless children.