Ch­esco D.A. of­fers in­sight into school shoot­ings

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Brandt ebrandt@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @PottstownNews on Twit­ter

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.

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