As we learn more about how the attack on Robb Elementary School unfolded there are many questions where Americans will strongly disagree on the right solution, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: the police response was utterly negligent.
Despite early reports indicating the shooter had to fight his way through police resistance in order to get into the school, it now appears nobody in law enforcement engaged him as he attempted to enter the school. In fact, the latest reporting from the Wall Street Journal indicates the shooter lingered outside the school for 12 minutes before entering. After an initial exchange of fire that left two officers injured as they arrived on the scene, police reportedly did not attempt to confront the shooter for upwards of an hour.
That is inexplicable. The response was so inept that a mother heard about the attack, drove 40 miles, confronted police who had not yet confronted the shooter, was handcuffed while trying to go into the school herself, got officers to remove the handcuffs, walked to a different area, climbed a fence and went inside. She was, miraculously, able to safely retrieve her children.
And all of that happened before police actually confronted the shooter.
“The police were doing nothing,” Angeli Rose Gomez, the mother in question, told the Journal. “They were just standing outside the fence. They weren’t going in there or running anywhere.”
This is a shocking deriliction of duty.
Responding to an active shooter event is something none of would want to have to do. It’s an exceedingly dangerous situation. I’ve never done it and I hope I never have to.
That said, I have taken several active shooter training courses over the years. One was with the Israeli Tactical School which was taught by a former Chief Security Officer in the Shin Bet. The other was a course for armed teachers in Colorado which was taught in part by a police officer who responded to a school shooting.
The key takeaway from both of those courses was the urgency of action. In an active shooter situation, every moment matters. Immediately moving towards the sound of gunfire is the priority, everything else is secondary.
If you allow a shooter uncontested time to carry out their attack, they will find more victims.
And this isn’t some grand revelation you need to attend multiple active shooter training drills to understand. This has been a well-known principle for literally decades now. It was one of the main takeaways from the Columbine shooting in 1999.
During that attack, police formed a perimeter outside the school and attempted to evacuate students from areas of the school where the shooters weren’t at. The assumption was the attack had become akin to a hostage situation. However, the delay in engaging the shooters merely allowed them to kill more students uncontested.
Somehow this mistake appears to have been repeated at Robb Elementary School. It’s difficult to comprehend how that could be the case. Instead of rushing in to confront the attacker, even after they had clearly gathered overwhelming force, police were tasked with tackling or tasing onlookers and parents who attempted to push past them to intervene themselves.
There is even a report that individual police officers entered the school to evacuate their own children.
Those parents knew what a deadly mistake waiting was. Why didn’t the people charged with making the decision on how to handle the attack? How could this possibly have been allowed to continue for so long?
We also have a report that indicates the shooter continued to kill children right up until the very moment he was shot by police. His attack did not end until he was killed himself. A fourth grade boy told a local outlet the attacker shot a little girl as she cried out to police for help when they finally did arrive in her classroom.
“When the cops came, the cop said: ‘Yell if you need help!’ And one of the persons in my class said ‘help.’ The guy overheard and he came in and shot her,” the boy told KENS 5. “The cop barged into that classroom. The guy shot at the cop. And the cops started shooting.”
It’s impossible to know how many children might have been saved if police had acted faster but it’s hard to imagine the number isn’t higher than zero given these facts.
The investigation is still ongoing and more details are likely to bring further clarity to what happened. However, it is impossible to imagine information coming out that justifies the inaction of law enforcement.
Further, this wasn’t a situation like the Parkland shooting where a single armed officer failed to intervene. This was bigger than that. Videos clearly show a significant police presence was on the scene for a significant amount of time before anyone was sent in to confront the shooter.
Who told those officers to secure a perimeter rather than find and neutralize the shooter?
This was a catastrophic leadership failure. We need answers for how this was allowed to happen. Who was responsible for making these decisions? And, for God’s sake, why did they make them?