About 1,000 people — primarily educators and staff from Lowndes County School District and Mississippi University for Women — were silent as they watched what appeared to be surveillance footage of two teenage boys armed with long guns stalking the hallways of a school.
There were gasps when one of the boys raised their gun and apparently shot at someone and an outbreak of nervous laughter when one student ran away from the boys screaming a defiant obscenity at them over his shoulder, but Rent Auditorium on MUW’s campus was mostly quiet Wednesday afternoon throughout the duration of the 10-minute video which ended only when the two boys shot themselves.
After that, the speaker, Chris Salley, walked back to the center of the stage.
“I asked you if you remembered Columbine, right?” he said, referencing a school shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in April 1999. “I didn’t say that’s Columbine. So what that was was a remake of Columbine. … A drama class put that together and it’s supposed to be Columbine.”
Salley was in Columbus Wednesday to train the educators, as well as some local law enforcement, in responding to active killer incidents. The part-time sheriff’s deputy from Siloam Springs, Arkansas, has over his 23-year law enforcement career been an international police officer, a SWAT team commander and a school resource officer. Since 2011, he has traveled around Arkansas training law enforcement agencies, school districts and other organizations in how to respond to active killer situations.
Salley’s message Wednesday to both law enforcement and teachers was that traditional and well-accepted policies of dealing with mass killers, such as the shooter who attacked Parkland High School in Florida earlier this month, don’t work.
“Prior to the ’60s, we had incidents of mass murder where law enforcement responded, but what happened then was law enforcement went in and they handled the situation,” Salley told reporters during a break in his talk with law enforcement Wednesday morning a few hours before speaking with teachers. “There weren’t policies, there weren’t procedures and really ways that were set in stone on how to deal with it. The police officers went in and intervened and they were successful.”
In the 1960s, Salley said, law enforcement and school districts around the country began to look for a policies to put in place in the event of a mass shootings in which killers indiscriminately targeted as many people as they could.
“That’s when we started to wait for SWAT teams and wait for contact teams,” Salley said. “And they were very well-intentioned policies. It’s not because the police officers didn’t want to take care of the situation. We thought we were doing the right thing. But as time has passed, we’ve learned. We’ve seen what works and what doesn’t work. Agencies are starting to move toward a rapid response and immediate intervention, or as immediate as possible.”
Salley has studied active killers. He specifies killers rather than shooters because, though the vast majority are armed with long guns, some have used explosives, vehicles and even knives. What they usually have in common, he said, is they work alone, they rarely have firearms training, 90 percent of them are suicidal, they target defenseless people and they usually surrender or die by suicide when confronted by law enforcement. He stressed they’re not superhuman — the reason they have high kill rates is that their victims have been taught not to run from them or resist them.
Salley spoke with officers from Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office, MUW Police Department and Mississippi State University Police Department at the Lowndes County shooting range about ways law enforcement have successfully intervened in active killer incidents.
He said he knows of an officer training company that always recommends officers wait to form a SWAT team and a plan before going into a building to stop an active shooter. Salley called the company twice to ask if they could provide him an example of that ever working. They never answered him, he said.
Salley said more than half of active killers were stopped when an unarmed person stopped them. Police have only stopped active killers in about 25 percent of incidents — and 66 percent of those times, the police officer was by himself, he said.
He also stressed police officers have never been killed while stopping active killers.
Lowndes County Sheriff Mike Arledge said the department has always trained officers in the event of a school shooting or similar event to go into the building.
“That’s the way we’ve been taught,” he said. “… First officer there, go in. Take action. Now you might have a scenario somewhere, sometime that might be a little bit different, but generally speaking, that’s what you should do.”
Arledge said the department has been trying for several years to arrange for instructors such as Salley to do presentations and training with his officers, as well as training for teachers.
“Not to shoot,” Arledge specified. “But maybe what to expect if it happens.”
Salley said the idea of “lockdown” was suggested by the California prison system.
“It’s a plan designed for people who could not leave,” he said. “For people who I could not say, ‘Fight back.’ I can’t tell a prisoner, ‘So when they start fighting and they’re outside your room in the jail … go in your hiding place and get your shank.’ … I can’t tell them, ‘If you’re out in the yard and they start slaughtering you, jump the fence, run for your lives and in an hour come back.’ It doesn’t make sense. But what also doesn’t make sense is telling people, ‘When they come in and start shooting up the cafeteria, (lie) on the floor and do nothing.'”
For schools, Salley said, lockdown procedure is a good starting point, but not a good ending one. Instead of huddling in the classroom and “taking roll,” he said, teachers need to find ways to barricade the doors and get students out of the building if they know a killer is already in the school. Teachers who tell their students to scatter save more lives than teachers who tell their students to hide under their desks and not make noise, he said.
Salley also said some school districts have policies specifying teachers, administrators and school resource officers use code words to communicate about threats. The idea behind that is to keep students from being scared, he said, but giving students and anyone else in the building more information is better. If a student hears there’s a shooter in the cafeteria, that student is going to know to head in the other direction. It also gives people more time to run away.
LCSD Superintendent Lynn Wright attended the training with his teachers. He said the district had already been working with LCSO to determine where it could strengthen its school shooting procedures.
“This was so helpful,” he said. “And it reinforces some of the things that we’ve already been told of the change and the thought process of how to react.”
Wright said the district is also implementing training from the Mississippi Department of Education.
“We want to see how all that meshes,” he said. “… We want to make sure we’re as prepared as possible.”