UNDER THE GUN
Chesco D.A. offers insight into school shootings
SOUTH COVENTRY >> Facing a slow-but-steady increase in the number of school shootings nationwide, Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan outlined ways to prevent them during a presentation Wednesday at Owen J. Roberts High School.
Hogan was joined by Downingtown Police Detective Andy Trautmann and together they outlined what they have learned over the years — Hogan as an agent fighting terrorism before being elected district attorney and Trautmann as both a SWAT team commander and former School Resource Officer. They started with the basics. There are 360 million guns in the United States and only 325 million people so, as Hogan put it, “guns aren’t going anywhere.”
Guns are also simple and hardy tools, said Hogan, holding up a revolver and saying he could bury it in the ground for 70 years, dig it up, clean it off “and it would work fine.”
School shooters are most often males, between the ages of 15 to 19, or 35 to 44.
Teen shooters usually have a grudge against a school and older men who become school shooters face pressures from work, family failed marriages, know they will not be a major league pitcher for the Phillies.
“This is the age when they
realize, this is their life,” said Hogan., adding that “once we reach 50, we are either more likely to be past those pressures, or learned to live with them.”
An “active shooter,” is someone who “wants to run the numbers up, get as high a body count as they possibly can,” said Trautmann.
“A targeted shooter has a target in mind. Although they can turn into active shooters and they will shoot someone whop gets in their way,” he said.
Many focus on high schools as targets, but when a shooter is not a student, the targets are usually “softer” targets like middle or elementary schools, said Hogan.
“High schools are full of teenage knuckleheads with hormones raging through their bodies who take big risks and are easily triggered,” making them less attractive to an active shooter who does not have a grudge against a particular school, he said.
Police generally plan to face a single shooter when responding to a school shooting. Those involving more than one, tend to be stopped before they occur. “Give me five guys going to attack a school, and I guarantee you one of them will screw up,” he said.
Hogan noted that a year later, and the expending of no small amount of effort and resources, “”the FBI still have no idea why the shooter in Las Vegas did what he did.”
Why Does it Happen?
School shootings have many causes, including copy cats and a desensitization to violence.
That happens most commonly in recent times as the result of “first-person shooter” games, said Hogan.
He described a murder case in which two men were fighting over a gun and a third man who was friends with one of the men carefully shot the one fighting with his friend.
“He drew his gun, aimed carefully and waited until he had his shot and hit his target, he waited and did it again, and again. He didn’t have SWAT training, he was not in the military, he had learned it from playing video games,” Hogan said.
“We’ve trained up a whole generation of trained shooters,” he said.
Trautmann said he was amazed while serving as a School Resource Officer, how often teens came up to him to ask him about specific guns “and if I had ever shot one. They knew them all from their games,” he said.
He said the games desensitize people to violence the same way military and police training does.
“They found in World War I that most soldiers just fired their guns, they didn’t fire at or hit their targets,” he said. By World War II and Korea, the military was training with more life-like targets “to desensitize them,” said Trautmann. “It’s the same thing we do in SWAT training.”
Another factor is social media, said Hogan.
“Back when I was in school, two guys wanted to call each other names you know what happened. They had a fist fight and then they were done,” Hogan said.
Now, however, social media abuse taunts teens in from of the whole school and can drag on for months.
(On the plus side, it does allow the authorities to intervene more quickly if its more visible.)
Another factor is that “kids are under more pressure than we were in school, they do more homework than we did in school” said Hogan. “When my daughter was in second grade, she was already talking about what college she was going to go to and she was not alone.”
Most important to understand is there is no one single cause, said Hogan.
How Does a Shooter Become a Shooter?
The first phase of becoming a school shooter is the fantasy stage, Hogan said.
“They fantasize about the shooting and, if they post about it on social media, we can find out about it and stop it. Ninetynine percent of them are stopped before they happen,” he said.
The second stage if planning: the shooter thinks about how to sneak materials into school ahead of time, researching how you build a bomb.
The third stage is preparation. They may, for example, start shooting in the woods to improve their aim.
“When it’s not hunting season, if you’re hearing shots in the woods, you should absolutely call us and let us check it out,” said Trautmann. “We would rather investigate 100 incidents that turn out to be nothing, than miss an opportunity to stop a school shooting.”
“We had an eighth grader in Downingtown with floor plans of every school. He tried to buy ingredients for a thermite bomb, and he had Hitler’s book Mein Kampf on his computer,” said Trautmann. “He was stopped.Any time they have blue prints, you’re in trouble.”
The fourth phase is the approach stage, driving to school or hiding something in school during evening sports events.
The fifth and final phase is once the shooting starts. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, it’s stopped ahead of time and you never hear about,” Hogan said.
What Can You Do?
The most important resource law enforcement has are the parents and members of the community, said Hogan. He urged parents to monitor their children’s social media accounts, look at their phones at texts, emails and more, to search their rooms.
Very important is to lock up household guns. “We often find shooters get guns from homes, or friend’s home, where guns are not locked up,” hogan said.
Schools must train staff continuously and drill regularly so that, like fire drills, children will be safer. “The last time someone died in a school fire was the 1950s,” Trautmann said.
Because police now train to enter as soon as possible, not to wait for the SWAT team, and to shoot anyone with a gun, Hogan said Chester County officials do not support arming teachers.
Trautmann said they are unlikely to train regularly enough to hit where they’re aiming and are more likely to be shot by police.
Both said Owen J. Roberts has made one of the most important investments, in a school district police force and a head of security, and said schools must work to keep a balance between turning a school into a prison, and making it “a totally open campus.”
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan waiting to begin his presentation at Owen J. Roberts High School Wednesday.
Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan gives parents a closer look at a revolver during a presentation Wednesday about school shootings.
Parents at Wednesday’s presentation about school shootings at Owen J. Roberts High School were given the opportunity to hold different kinds of guns, as well as other potentially dangerous objects like a hammer and a bottle of oxycodone.