On Monday, gunshots rang out in a nice middle class Ohio high school. One teenage boy opened fire shooting five students. Two of those students have died as a result. Those are the bare facts. The full story is still being sorted out by the investigators as well as the students, families, and news media. In America violence is no stranger. People are shot and killed all the time. So much so that we have become numb to the violence and most is never reported in the media. What makes this incident so different?
This shooting involves our children. It happened in a place where they are supposed to be safe. Chardon is a small town of just 5000 people. The shooter is one of our children as well. That is what is so different and that is what scares us so much.
My sons went to a school that looks very similar to Chardon High School. The pictures of the two murdered boys look like they could have ridden the school bus with my boys. The pictures I saw show two smiling, handsome, healthy young men with the future wide open to them. Suddenly, they are gone. The shooter in this case looks like many other young kids you see at any similar high school. The one thing I notice is that the shooter is not smiling in his pictures.
As police officers, we all look at this and wonder how this could have been prevented. The shooter, now identified as T.J. Lane, was a student at another school. If he was not allowed into the Chardon High School cafeteria we might not have had this shooting. Secondly, he was allowed into the building with a hand gun. Metal detectors at the doors might have prevented this as well.
Fortunately the school has trained for such an event. If not for the quick reaction of the teachers, staff, and students, the death toll might have been much worse. Students took cover, teachers locked down rooms, and one brave football coach chased T.J. Lane from the building. Local law enforcement responded quickly. Lane was taken into custody a short time later without further violence.
Now we start the Monday morning quarterbacking. Could this have been prevented? Should someone have seen this developing and spoken up? Was there something that stuck out? Some red flag waiving that we should have seen? CBS news reported that the authorities told them Lane had warned friends two day prior to the actual event. If that is the case then what happened, why was he not stopped? Were there other indicators that no one spotted or were also ignored?
MSCNBC reports Lane grew up surrounded by a violent family. His father has been arrested on domestic violence and felonious assault charges. Thousands of kids grow up in similar conditions and never shoot up a high school. That doesn’t give reason to focus on him as a problem down the road.
Lane attended Lake Academy, an alternative high school for troubled students with either academic or behavior problems. He is described by those who know him as sullen and quiet. Media reports indicate that he was bullied. Furthermore, there are some sketchy reports are that possibly he was targeting the new boyfriend of his former girlfriend.
Like most every teenager his age, had a Facebook page. Reading his posts (http://www.cbsnews.com/2300-504083_162-10011451-32.html?tag=page) you might sense a dark foreboding warning you, but that in itself might not be enough to send up any flags. Taken independently, all of the indicators are not enough on their own to worry anyone. However when you look at the forest rather then the trees you start to see a very real problem growing.
Perhaps a school counselor or psychologist might have been able to look at all the indicators and spotted a problem beginning. But truthfully, most of these people are overworked and not able to devote the time needed to each student. Someone at home might have seen trouble brewing, but it has already been shown that home was probably part of the problem. One forensic psychologist has suggested that peer counseling, would have helped. Such counseling probably would have allowed a student peer counselor to identify Lane as a troubled teen who might benefit from further assistance.
Descriptions of Lane so far describe him as quiet and a loner, not very large in size. He probably lived just below the radar and other than the fact that he was supposedly the victim of bulling, there were probably not many others who paid much attention to him. We all can remember someone from our school days who just kind of floated through school, never the center of attention, usually just on the fringe of a group. At a school full of troubled students, unless he really did something to stand out, he would have gone relatively unnoticed.
Lt. Dan Marcou writes about the Five Phases of the Active Shooter. In each of these phases right up to the last, known as the implementation stage, there is a possibility of interaction by friends, family, school staff or police to prevent the shooting. The fantasy stage was clearly visible on Lane’s Facebook page. Unfortunately, once the implementation stage begins and the shooting starts, there is little that can be done other than what Chardon High School personnel and local police did.
What we can take away from this sad incident is the realization that we need to better train everyone from the students, to the parents, to the school staff, and the police. While everyone did a good job in a reactive stance, two teens are dead. We need to move to a more proactive stance to eliminate this type of school violence.
Students need to realize that the potential exists in the people they know to be violent and that it can happen in their school. We would all like to keep our kids isolated from the real world for as long as possible but we can’t. If the friends Lane warned about his planned behavior had notified their school or parents or police, then this horrible shooting might have been prevented. If friends on Facebook read his story and recognized it for what it was and told an authority figure, Lane might have gotten counseling he needed.
If the Lake Academy staff were better trained, they might have noticed his behavior and worked with Lane to help get him the counseling he needed prior to any violence. If the Chardon High School staff had spotted a stranger in the school or been able to prevent his entering the cafeteria, this might have been prevented. From early reports, however, Chardon school staff reacted as they were trained and may have prevented further death by their quick lockdown of the schoolrooms.
Can we put metal detectors at each school door and make our schools like a fortress? Yes of course we can, but that will not prevent the violence, but only displace it to another location. Early identification of people like T.J. Lane is what is needed. The problem there is how do we do this without stepping all over a person’s rights? That is a story for another day. Until then, tell your kids there are some people out there who will hurt people. Let them know they should tell you or a teacher when someone starts acting strangely, either in person or via social media.
As a police officer, urge your department to set up training at the local schools for both you and the school staff. The Chicago Police Department set up a series of training scenarios to train district first responders several years ago with great success. Sadly it is time to refresh everyone’s training.
Lt. Dan Marcou developed his theory to describe the stages of the active shooter and how to respond to the scene of a school shooting in an article I have highlighted at the bottom of this one. Every police officer should learn this theory by reviewing the article. At the very least, become very familiar with the schools in your area and the proper way to respond to a shooting at them. Learn the layout of the schools if you can. Realize that if you are first on the scene, you need to react swiftly and decisively because the primary goal is to stop the shooter.
As a parent, urge your children’s school to conduct training for their staff and students. Teach your children to recognize what happens in a school shooting and how to react for their safety.
Most of all, do not fall into the trap of thinking this could never happen in your area. I am sure if you asked the parents of Chardon, Ohio last Sunday, they would have thought, “Nah, our town is too quiet for that to happen here.”
Lt. Robert Weisskopf is a 30-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department. Lt. Weisskopf comes from a law enforcement family, including two uncles, a nephew, and his father. Weisskopf wears his father’s lieutenant’s star. Lt. Weisskopf is a graduate of Lewis University with a degree in criminal justice. He currently serves as commanding officer of the Chicago Police Department’s Alternate Response Section, which has approximately 200 officers, a unit bigger than most police departments in the United States.
During his decade-long tenure, the unit has increased officer response from handling three calls per day to 8 calls an hour. He has been a patrol officer, a district rapid response sergeant, and a watch commander in the 17th District. He spent a year detailed to HUD performing public housing narcotics investigations.
Weisskopf is an expert in collaborative leadership and informally mentoring younger officers. He enjoys the constant challenge of policing and problem solving. He just finished a five-year term as President of the Chicago Police Lieutenants Association, the collective bargaining organization for the Chicago Police Department’s lieutenants and was chief negotiator of the current contract.
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