common threadsActive Threat Events in America
I have spent weeks mulling over the October 25 events that took place in Lewiston, Maine: Another tragic event. Another round of the same questions. The left and right leaning media channels, masquerading as a fact-based news outlet, interview pundits who speculate on the suspect and their motives. Left and right leaning politicians trot out the same ‘common sense’ solutions while claiming this is an issue unique to America. If we look at every Active Threat Event (ATE) in America, common threads emerge.
No One Just Snaps
An Active Threat Event is never spontaneous. When you look at some events, they were planned for over a year. The killer was experiencing some type of crisis in their life. Things in their life seemed to be spiraling out of control. The loss of a loved one. A failed relationship. Employment termination. The need to take care of ailing parents. Although these things happen to a lot of use, the person in crisis is overwhelmed. They believe harming others, themselves, or both, are the only solutions.
To Connect the Dots
You Must Collect the Dots
When a person is in crisis, they will exhibit concerning behaviors. There will be a change in their personality. Their relationship with peers, co-workers, and family members will change. They will become grievance collectors and believe others are responsible for their situation. They study previous ATEs and will often obsess about weapons. They may say things and do things that may not be criminal in nature, but cause others to have a concern.
With the killer in the Lewiston, Maine, ATE, there were a lot of dots. Threats to co-workers. Physical assaults on members in his military unit. Reports to Law Enforcement. Concerns of family members. Hospitalization for mental issues. Accusations of being a pedophile. There appears to be an initial effort to collect all the dots, but those efforts fell short. You need to have as many dots as possible if you are going to connect the dots.
Once all the dots are connected, law enforcement, mental health workers, and family members can develop an intervention strategy for a person on a pathway to violence. Instead of reacting when the killer shows up and trying to save lives during the ATE, the event can be stopped when the person is still at home. Instead of incarceration there is a treatment plan, so the person no longer thinks harming themselves or others is the solution to their pain.
Firearms are like Fire Extinguishers
I own firearms. I am a strong proponent of the Second Amendment. Unlike some politicians and lobbying groups, I do not believe the solution for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. I teach Citizen Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE). We cover the armed citizen in class. Those of us who carry a firearm in public do so to protect ourselves and our family. If we find ourselves in an ATE, distance is always our friend. We do not have a responsibility to stop the shooter or defend the lives of strangers. My trick question during a workplace violence class is, “Why are there fire extinguishers in public buildings?” Fire extinguishers are not in place for us to fight the fire. You will notice a fire extinguisher is always between you and an exit. If your only way of getting out of the building is blocked by a fire, use the fire extinguisher to help you escape.
This is why people carry firearms in public. If their only means of protecting themselves or their family is to shoot the bad guy, it is used as the last option, not the first option. Law Enforcement will have limited information when responding to an ATE, and will actively engage, “The man with a gun,” when they arrive on scene.
Finally, “See Something, Say Something,” is an incomplete strategy. We tell our clients it should be, “If you see something, you should say something. We promise we will do something!” This forces us to follow our processes and either close out the investigation as a transient threat or begin working on an intervention strategy that starts with getting support for the person in crisis and ends with a safety plan in place.
How do you remind your students and staff to “See Something, Say Something, DO Something”?