In October 2009, about one and a half years after the Virginia Tech tragedy, I led one of the first “Active Shooter Preparation” seminars in the U.S., hosted in Las Vegas by ASIS–the world’s largest security trade association. It was very significant to me in that we had recently produced and released our video program Shots Fired – Guidance for Surviving an Active Shooter Situation , which corporations and schools across the country were quickly adopting.
But this event became imprinted in my memory not because of the training…but because it was during the first day of this seminar that I received a text message from my son, Joshua (a junior in high school at the time) stating, “Dad…there’s a shooter in the school…what should I do…should I run?!”
I had just finished the introductory hour for the two-day seminar when the text message arrived. Keep in mind, this was the “first” training seminar, to my knowledge, ever conducted on this topic in the U.S. My first reaction was “this must be a bad joke,” but I soon realized he was serious.
Now, as a dad, I wanted to tell him what to do. But I couldn’t. I was in Las Vegas…he was in Spokane, WA. If I said, “yeah son…run,” I realized that I may very well send him directly into the path of the shooter. If I said, “Don’t run…but stay in lockdown,” he might find himself in the immediate proximity of the shooter. The reality was that he was the “Immediate Responder” (individuals involved in the emergency before first responders arrive) and he needed to determine what to do. What I did say via text messaging was, “What do you see? What do you hear? Are there windows? Are there doors? Whatever you do, don’t you just sit there and get shot!”
As I was texting Josh, I received a separate message from my older son, David, who was a senior at the same school. David’s message was essentially the same, “Dad, there’s a shooter in the school, what should I do…should I run?!” I’m now serving as Command Post to my kids from a thousand miles away. I have three children…David, Josh and Katie…they were a senior, junior and sophomore when this happened.
I continued to send text messages as quickly as I could…but then all the texting stopped…I was no longer getting any replies.
It took me about an hour of frantic phone calls and messaging before I found out what actually occurred. A student at this high school had taken and placed a clown mask on, ran into a classroom and with his hand pointed at the teacher and yelled, “Bang bang…I’ve been hired to kill you…you’re dead!” and then ran out of the classroom. The teacher didn’t know who he was…the school goes into lockdown…and the police show up and find this rogue student outside the building. His response when confronted, “Sorry, I guess it was just a bad joke.”
Bad joke indeed. But at the time, as far as I knew, a parent’s worst nightmare was playing itself out in front of me. And, as much as I wanted to control the situation and tell my kids exactly what to do, I couldn’t. They had to figure it out…with some key texts from Dad.
Since this happened in October 2009, I’ve told this story to literally tens of thousands of people during live presentations. I’ve had parents who listened to this story go home and sit down with their children and talk to them about how they would respond…and then come back to me and say “Thank you! Today my son was involved in an Active Shooter event at his university and he was texting me during the crisis, but we knew how to respond, and he made through it okay.”
Lockdown is not enough. We need to prepare all our kids how to respond during an Active Shooter event. The below link will route you to our newest video training program for responding to violence. Click to watch WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES – How to Recognize and Respond to an Extreme Violence Event . There is an option for an individual rental if you’d like to show your family.