Teachers at Sandy Hook

The father of a 4th grader who survived the shooting is a childhood friend from the small town in Vermont where my I spent some of my formative years.  He provided my sister, who was his classmate, with some details.  His son was in the library when the shooting started.  The librarian got all the children into a closet, shut the door, and then barricaded it by moving filing cabinets in front of it.  She tried to block the actual door into the library with other boxes, and she remained outside the closet door, talking to the children.  When the police arrived, she would not let them in until they managed to get their IDs where she could see them.

Think about the choice she faced.  She could have gotten into the closet with the kids and maybe if the shooter came into the library he would not have thought to look in the closet.  She chose to leave herself exposed, while buying precious minutes for the kids by barricading them.  Extraordinary.  The kindergarten teacher herded her charges into the “safe area” in the back of the classroom, and then was shot in the doorway, where she must have been trying to either rush the shooter or dissuade him.  I hope these women and their selflessness are never forgotten.

My mind cycles back to these moments in the lives of ordinary adults, untrained in reacting to armed invaders, and I wonder what I would have done.  So I ask, would it be wrong for police, or perhaps the military, to offer some training to the rest of us?  I don’t want to carry a gun to my boring government job, but if an armed assailant entered the building, I would like to have an idea of how to maximize my chances of slowing him down.  Obviously my first choice would be to hide, and I probably would not rush an armed person head on because it would be futile.  But just like the passengers on the Pentagon-bound jet that did not hit its target on 9/11, I can appreciate the logic in preventing more deaths if my own is certain.  I’d like to have some strategic understanding so I could avoid making matters worse and maybe even mitigate the harm.

Author: Lowry Heussler

Lowry Heussler is a lawyer from Cambridge, Massachusetts. Having participated in the RBC as a guest-blogger, she made it official in 2012. Her most important contribution to the field of public policy to date was her 1994 instruction to Mark Kleiman, "Read Ann Landers every day. You need to learn about real people." Her essay on the 2009 arrest of Henry Louis Gates went viral and brought about one of her proudest moments, being described as "just another twit along the lines of Sharpton, Jackson, Gates, etc." (Small Dead Animals Blog). Currently serving as General Counsel to BOTEC Analysis Corp., she has been a public housing lawyer, a prosecutor for the Board of Registration in Medicine, a large-firm associate and a small-firm partner. She serves as a board member for NEADS, Dogs for Deaf and Disabled Americans, a charity that trains service dogs to increase independence for people with disabilities.

42 thoughts on “Teachers at Sandy Hook”

  1. You’re asking the wrong question. The right question: If unathletic me were standing right by the basket and it was the final seconds of a game for my favorite NBA team and I received a pass, wouldn’t it nice to be eight feet tall?

    The answer to this question is clearly “no.” Being eight feet tall is unhealthy, even if it would somehow help me in an extremely rare situation.

    Widespread gun ownership is extremely unhealthy, completely setting aside the likelihood that guns will fall into the hands of stone criminals. Many common situations become deadly when you add widespread gun ownership. Domestic violence plus guns leads to many deaths. (Many police departments have their divorcing cops check their guns in at the end of the shift.) Children plus guns leads to many deaths. Not every gun owner is careful about gun safes. Road rage is bad enough with cars. William Burroughs played William Tell. etc.

    1. Scrooge, that’s an unhelpful shift of frame.

      If you’re in a building full of innocents and a shooter, or a plane piloted by terrorists, wouldn’t it be best to just go ahead and rush the baddie? I like the quote that goes something like this: “It’s better to be a live jackal than a dead lion, but it’s best to be a live lion, and that is often the easiest path”. Don’t leave out the the calculus, how many nights falling asleep does the live jackal have to live out?

      1. Matt,
        I think you’re the one who is shifting the frame. The question isn’t one of what to do; it is what to have done in preparation. Lowry was wondering if armament and training are worth it ex ante, not if resistance is worth it ex post. I’ll certainly agree with the second paragraph of your argument; I just don’t think that was the issue Lowry framed.

  2. Given the extreme rarity of mass shootings, training teachers in just about anything else — first aid for choking, say, or identifying signs of child abuse — would save more lives at the margin.

    1. You must not have a kid in a public school because schools already do regular “lock-down” drills, along with their fire and (where applicable) tornado drills. My kid has been to several assemblies on what to do if a dangerous intruder enters the school building and I have been to one afterschool meeting for parents on this subject as well (I mainly went to hear what they were going to tell my kid at the assembly — in some ways, it was similar to the meeting the school held for parents to show us in advance the puberty-on-its-way film they were about to show the fourth graders). So if the kids are being trained, you can be sure the teachers have been trained too.

      It also should be noted that teachers are indeed trained in identifying child abuse and are mandated reporters of any suspected abuse, that is, they are legally responsible to alert the proper authorities about children who show signs of being abused. Finally, I don’t know any specifics about first aid for choking but I imagine most schools do have a protocol for medical emergencies, especially if they cannot afford a full-time nurse.

      Don’t assume that schools are not saving lives at the margin everyday. They are.

      1. Now, there’s something which might improve the situation during the rare school massacre; When somebody is going around shooting kids, don’t lock them in the building with him.

        What exactly is the basis for thinking that a “lock down” is actually a good thing in these situations?

        1. It’s not necessarily that simple. It’s better to hide in the room and wait til the guy gets arrested, shot by cops, or suicides, than to be running around in halls where unknown assailants have automatic weapons. Even going outside could be worse, if there are other shooters, or if the guy decides to snipe from a window.

          1. “if there are other shooters”; Exactly how many multiple shooter school massacres have there been, anyway?

            And I’m pretty sure there haven’t been any school massacres with automatic weapons, either.

            Seriously, we ought to reconsider “lockdowns”, they don’t make much sense in this situation.

          2. = = = Brett Bellmore @ 3:06 pm: “Now, there’s something which might improve the situation during the rare school massacre; […]”

            ___

            CHARLOTTE BACON, 6

            They were supposed to be for the holidays, but finally on Friday, after hearing much begging, Charlotte Bacon’s mother relented and let her wear the new pink dress and boots to school.

            It was the last outfit the outgoing redhead would ever pick out. Charlotte’s older brother, Guy, was also in the school but was not shot.

            Her parents, JoAnn and Joel, had lived in Newtown for four or five years, JoAnn’s brother John Hagen, of Nisswa, Minn., told Newsday.

            “She was going to go some places in this world,” Hagen told the newspaper. “This little girl could light up the room for anyone.”

            ___

            DANIEL BARDEN, 7

            Daniel’s family says he was “fearless in the pursuit of happiness in life.”

            He was the youngest of three children and in a statement to the media, his family said Daniel earned his missing two front teeth and ripped jeans.

            “Words really cannot express what a special boy Daniel was. Such a light. Always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate, fair and so thoughtful towards others, imaginative in play, both intelligent and articulate in conversation: in all, a constant source of laughter and joy,” the family said.

            His father, Mark is a local musician.� The New Haven Register reported that Mark was scheduled to play a show at a restaurant in Danbury on Friday, a show that was later cancelled.

            On the biography on his professional website, Mark Barden lists spending time with his family as his favorite thing to do.

            ___

            RACHEL D’AVINO, 29

            Days before the Connecticut shooting rampage, the boyfriend of Rachel D’Avino had asked her parents for permission to marry her.

            D’Avino was a behavioral therapist who had only recently started working at the school where she was killed, according to Lissa Lovetere Stone, a friend who is handling her funeral planned for Friday. D’Avino’s boyfriend, Anthony Cerritelli, planned to ask her to marry him on Christmas Eve, Lovetere Stone said.

            Lovetere Stone said she met D’Avino in 2005 when D’Avino was assigned to her son, who has autism, in their town of Bethlehem. D’Avino, 29, was so dedicated she’d make home visits and constantly offered guidance on handling situations such as helping her son deal with loud music at a wedding.

            “Her job didn’t end when the school bell rang at 3 o’clock,” Lovetere Stone said.

            Police told her family that she shielded one of the students during the rampage, Lovetere Stone said.

            “I’m heartbroken. I’m numb,” Lovetere Stone said. “I think she taught me more about how to be a good mother to a special needs child than anyone else ever had.”
            __

            (via Huffington Post)

        2. Sometimes Brett’s native stupidity becomes offensive.

          Oh yes, march 15-20 kids down the hall and out the building while an armed killer is stalking the halls.

          Brett, you aren’t on our side. You’re on the murderers’ side, determined to keep them armed against us. Begone and have done with you.

          1. Oh, yes, keep 15-20 kids in the classroom, waiting for the armed killer to work his way around to your room.

      2. My son also has lock down drills at school.

        Workplace violence is common and I have to pass annual training in handling potential situation. The teachers at Sandy Hook behaved exactly as advised by my most recent training for incidents involving shooting.

        1. Actually, at the presentation for parents on what our children were going to be told at the assembly about intruders and lockdowns, the speaker (who I remember being from a local police force) said that the newest thinking is that depending on the circumstances, escape can be a good option that should be considered, if it is possible.

          Of course that assumes a classroom 1) on the first floor, 2) that has a means of exit such as a door or a window that opens, and opens wide enough to allow people through, and 3) that once outside, there is a good route away from the building. Needless to say, a lot of classrooms are not on the first floor, many first floor classrooms have only one door to the hallway, many newer schools have windows that don’t open, etc.

          1. In fact, schools are going to minimal, monitored entrances and exits to protect the children from parent abduction, sex predators, etc.

          2. In case I wasn’t clear enough, the police officer’s rule of thumb for us was:

            Exiting the school building directly from the classroom = depending on circumstances, might be considered and might be the best course of action

            Exiting from school building internally via hallways = NEVER

            So partial credit to Brett, who got this half-right.

            And OKDem, yes, the newer buildings in my school district are very hard to get into, with just one open, unlocked entrance that channels you by or through the school office first, and there are cameras everywhere as well.

            If the school secretaries don’t recognize you, you have to show them your driver’s license; I wouldn’t be surprised if the secretaries keep a list of families (maybe even photos) where the school is worried about non-custodial parents running off with a student. I also wouldn’t be surprised if they have a panic button similar to those bank tellers have.

            Those of us who volunteer to work in the schools, doing extra tutoring, helping the art teacher load the kiln, chaperoning school trips, etc., all have to undergo yearly finger-printing/police checks. For this purpose, there is an inkless fingerprint machine in the superintendent’s office.

            I think you can pretty much tell from this thread who has kids in a public school and who doesn’t: those of us with school-aged kids know exactly how security-conscious the contemporary school is, those without can’t begin to imagine.

            Anyway, you are right that it is hard to get into a school these days. From what I’ve read, the Sandy Hook shooter shot his way in, which is proof of that. But there are always going to be fire exits, the fire marshall will make sure of that.

  3. This world has always been a very dangerous place, and it’s human inhabitants very dangerous beings. To seek knowledge and training in methods of self-defense is a rational response to our environment. One can always seek out alternatives if one feels that the presence of guns presents unacceptable risks, but self-defense training is generally a good idea. However we feel about guns, when we call 911 upon hearing the back door glass breaking, we expect the police to arrive equipped to defend our families in a shoot-out with the armed robber who broke in, if necessary.

  4. A useful word for people like Victoria Soto, who died, unarmed, protecting the children for whom she was responsible, is martyr. A martyr in a good cause, helping children to grow up in a safe and loving environment. Martyrs are rarer than heroes, and should be more precious to our memory.
    It looks as if America’s gun culture will claim many more martyrs as well as victims and heroes before it dies, like Roman emperor-worship.

  5. A few basic tips, with discussion.

    My understanding of the basic tactical decision tree is this:

    If:
    You can hide in place safely do. If not:
    Run away as safely as you cannot. If you have no other choice, then and only then:
    Fight back.

    They don’t teach those first two steps to the people who arm themselves to the teeth with tactical weapons and think that makes them safe. I’m not even sure they add the last word.

    1. It’s an interesting calculation; The basic analysis is that hide, and if not possible, run away, and only attack as a last resort, is the best strategy for each individual person, in each individual instance, but that fighting back is actually the best strategy for everybody, taken as a group.

      In a group where everybody is following your advice, the armed killer may, unaccosted, simply proceed from victim to victim until he runs out of ammo, running up the casualty count.

      In a group where everybody follows the opposite of your advice, he goes down immediately, maybe taking the first couple people with him, but the overall casualty count is lower.

      So, if I ever end up in that situation, I’m rushing the guy, and to hell with your advice. Either I’ll be able to live with myself, or I won’t have to.

      1. In these types of situations, even unarmed confrontation can cause the shooter to back off or even give up. And don’t turn your back on them. It just makes it psychologically easier for them to shoot you.

        1. They can’t teach the capacity to realize some people’s highest value isn’t their own safety, either, I guess.

          1. Victoria Soto, the teacher killed while protecting her students, was engaging in step three of the drill. She couldn’t hide and she couldn’t run. She stood her ground and died effectively. The advice is given in order not to become a pointless casualty. She couldn’t hide safely, because she had children to protect. She couldn’t run safely, because she had children to protect. She fought in defense of her students as her conscience directed.

            She had no other choice. Dying for your students is part of the unwritten contract teachers take on. It’s possible when my friend–not a close friend, but a friend, and a teacher to whom my best friend was very close, and to whom I had to break the news–died in his office at the hands of his graduate student in 2000, he was stalling for time to do just that. It’s the sort of thing he would do.

            That drill has cover in it for cowardice, no question. It also has cover for heroism.

            I’m irritated with you, Brett, but you’ve made a serious effort to present an argument for the common good and I must respect that. I have a different evaluation than of how to achieve that common good. That’s all.

          2. If you die rushing a mad dog killer, you’re not a pointless casualty. If several other people do it with you, you’re not going to be a futile one, either.

            I’m suggesting that we need to encourage a better, for society, balance between individual safety, and societal safety. Step one is giving Soto a hell of a lot more publicity than the assh*le murderer.

          3. And if you’re close enough to rush him you, you cannot hide and you cannot run. I think for once we’re in more agreement than we realize. And I am so totally down with your step one that it isn’t funny.

  6. What’s important is that their unions be broken so these lazy nine months a year, time server teachers can all be graded regularly by student performance on standardized tests, and that administrators be able to fire them easily. 2nd Amendment good, unions bad.

    1. THIS. THIS A THOUSAND, THOUSAND TIMES.

      Although you left out the part about privatizing as much as the public school system as possible so that yet another income stream could be guaranteed to the one percent of the one percent. Because it’s not just unions that are bad, it’s the idea of there being a public sphere too.

      What got me crying was the description of how the principal died because I knew immediately that she could have been any of the five principals my kid’s had (he’s now in high school). Even the Jr High principal I didn’t like. I am sure all of them would have done the same thing.

      What the teachers at Sandy Hook did was at the same time both extraordinary and what you could count on most ordinary teachers to do. Think of the Sandy Hook teachers as a random sample of teachers because that’s what they are in the end.

      I challenge anyone here to go spend a few minutes at Diane Ravitch’s blog. Read about the attack on public schools and public school teachers. See how widespread and increasingly effective it is. Then try to reconcile the consumate professionals you’ve been reading about in Sandy Hook with the image of teachers of lazy and incompetent that’s being propagated everywhere, all for the purpose of dismantling the public school. http://dianeravitch.net/

      1. Public-school teachers are a stench in the nostrils and an affront before the eyes of the Market, blessed be It. Openly, publicly flouting our national religion:

        All that is, can be bought and sold.
        Such as cannot be bought and sold, is not.
        All that can be bought and sold, must be bought and sold.

        Because everything private is better than anything public is, or ever can be.
        And so long as one of us, somewhere, is covered by a collective-bargaining agreement, none of us, anywhere, is truly free.

  7. After the shootings at Virginia Tech, my law school distributed a 30 min. Video on what do in an actvive shooter situation. It calmed explained what to do (barricading, fleeing, contacting authorities), but it also discussed reporting suspicious behaviour of co-workers, classmates, ESP. Regarding seeing firearms, talking about violence, and other indicators. I actually thought it was a good video. Will try and find it…

  8. How soon until a nimble, quick-fingered, typically immature five-year-old decides it would be neat to play with Mrs. Jones’s gun?

  9. How about a little pile of golf-ball shaped lead chunks on your desk? Hopefully you can carry several in your off-hand. At home, practice beaning a noggin sized target.

  10. When I was a teen around the time of columbine, the advice I got from an ex soldier was to basically try and tackle them at the knees iff in a situation where one was in a position to make such a desperate charge. Not a first course of action or anything, of course, but something to try if a bunch of people were at risk and one had a viable oblique angle to make them buckle at the joints. Once they’re on the ground and out of a shooting posture, it’s hopefully down to tooth and claw.

  11. I’m in agreement on the fighting back, but remember, you may be in a wide clear hallway 30 feet away – wide open. A rush has to have a few people willing to get pretty crazy. I know that I, at 5’7/170# would allow myself to be point on an airline aisle IF I knew that 2 200+# guys were practically throwing me in. Never again with knives on a plane – or anywhere. Hmmm, is there a lesson around here somewhere?

    1. Yes, I think there is: We, as a society, have been discouraging heroism for anybody who’s not in an official position such as cop, fireman, or soldier. This has made life easier for the evil among us. It was what enabled the 9-11 attack, it is what causes the casualty numbers to be so high in these school shootings.

      We should turn around and encourage heroism. Stop telling people to play it safe in the face of evil, and give fame and honor to those who set aside their own safety to stop the bad guy at the risk of their own life.

      When this sort of atrocity takes place, the center of the story shouldn’t be the clown who wanted notoriety, it should be the hero or heroine who brought the rampage to an end. Who should be portrayed as somebody to emulate, not as a fool taking unnecessary risks.

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