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Bob Parker

Bob Parker

Lt. Robert Parker served with the Omaha (Neb.) PD for 30 years and commanded the Emergency Response Unit. He is responsible for training thousands of law enforcement instructors in NTOA's Patrol Response to Active Shooters courses.

Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Jose Medina

Jose Medina

Officer Jose Medina is an active member of the Piscataway (N.J.) Police Department's SWAT team and runs Awareness Protective Consultants (Team APC) tactical training.

Active Shooter at Nursing Home: The Answer

Should you engage or wait for backup? The answer is clear.

June 10, 2011  |  by Bob Parker - Also by this author

With this SWAT blog, we're answering a question proposed in the May 25 blog, "Active Shooter at Nursing Home: Engage or Wait for Backup?" You told us how you would handle the active-shooter scenario proposed.

Now, we'll give you the actual outcome from the incident. Here's the answer:

Seung-Hui Cho, the killer at Virginia Tech, averaged shooting a victim about every 10 seconds during his rampage. And there was no delay by first responders at Norris Hall. Some of the damage will already be done. Nothing we can do about that. In our damage control mode we have to engage the killer as quickly as possible. Simply put, if the killer is killing, kill the killer.

Questions arise such as what if it's an ambush? What if the shooter has superior firepower? What if there are IEDs involved? What if there's more than one shooter? Yes, these are concerns, but we can "what if" innocent victims to death.

Look at it like emergency trauma surgery. A surgeon would certainly like to have all the relevant information and diagnostics before opening the patient. But while they wait for MRIs or CAT scans, the patient dies. When the time is now, you go with the personnel, weapon, equipment, and intel you have at the time.

I began teaching the class, "Patrol Response to Active Shooters," for the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) shortly after Columbine. The protocol was three or four officers forming a diamond or "T" formation to engage a subject or clear a building.

A few years ago, a few active-shooter-response instructors (including myself) began endorsing an immediate response of one or two officers. Initially, some viewed this as heresy. We began to advocate this response under the radar. We were finding that waiting for three or four officers was costing lives or delaying the rescue of those already injured. A majority of my students have embraced this concept.

Sometimes it's one of those "Aw shit, here we go" moments in law enforcement. I've polled many classes and conferences. Most agree that in some incidents you just have to go. I've never encountered an officer that wanted to go it alone. It's an option for the gravest extreme. If there are no indicators that the killing is continuing (such as shots, screams or other intelligence), we may be able to wait three minutes. Solo entry is not a tactic used for clearing.

The massacre at the nursing home did, in fact, happen. The setting was Carthage, N.C., on March 29, 2009. Sgt. Justin Garner responded and drove forward when he heard four shots fired. He engaged the shooter and put him down with one round from his .40-caliber Glock from a 40 yards away. Sgt. Garner was wounded in the leg by pellets fired from the suspect's shotgun. The suspect survived his wound and is awaiting trial.

Eight innocent people, most of them elderly and some in wheelchairs, died that day. More would have died or been wounded if not for Sgt. Justin Garner's selfless actions. In September 2009, Sgt. Garner was awarded the NTOA Individual Medal of Valor.

Some of you have noted in your responses that a patrol rifle would have been a better option. The Carthage PD didn't carry patrol rifles in March of 2009. They do now.


Active Shooter at Nursing Home: Engage or Wait for Backup?

Lone Officer Subdued N.C. Nursing Home Shooter

Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

ROSCOELSE @ 6/13/2011 5:44 PM

I would think it is obvious that you would go in,you can't wait,people die while you wait more often than not.You give information to radio ,turn off your radio (if you're in a department with just one channel and take your chances and say the Lords Prayer as you enter.Once in,you stop,look,listen then proceed to first door,stairwell,hallway,check your surroundings,listen again for shots fired or yelling ,proceed.Only turn radio to report on low,telling them not to talk loud or yell.check out rooms as you proceed,evacuate victims or injured,announce where you're at and what was cleared.Get assistance as time warrants it,search all males for weapons,cover evacuation,do not use phones.If you survive,if you have helped others and have neutralized the suspect,expect to be written up,suspended,dressed up and dressed down because nothing you do will satisfy the pencil-necked pencil pushing jerks in the office that have been off the road for ten years,have taken no current training or are just too cautious to get anything accomplished.Don't expect commendations,pats on the back,awards,or medals,be grateful if somebody buys you a cup of coffee,including your back-up that never showed up but nobody is looking at.Go Home,hug your wife and kids if you still have any,if not,hug and kiss your dog,he still loves you.If anyone asks why you did what you did,say because the chief,commander,captain,lieutenant and sergeant were not there to give you instruction or direction based on what was happening at the scene,you used your iniative,it was all that you had to rely on.

Chuck Haggard @ 6/13/2011 6:06 PM

Good follow-up on the first article.

I also teach solo response if the situation dictates.

batosai117 @ 6/13/2011 6:30 PM

I've been waiting for the answer to this and figured that the officer went in solo. Like stated above, no one wants to go in alone, but sometimes you just have to do what is necessary.

Brian Welch @ 6/14/2011 8:18 AM

I concur.

What would you want an officer to do if it was your wife, your husband, your father, your mother or your child in there? Inaction or decision delay may cost another life. The guilt of that is inconceivable to most law enforcement. I think most officers role play in their minds what they would do in such situations. I like to call it "a plan". As stated in the article, kill the killer. If they have a plan, I imagine it is to not sit in the car and wait for back-up. Hopefully the policy of their agency doesn't interfere with their desire to save a life.

ROSCOELSE @ 6/14/2011 11:11 PM

I don't think it would be against policy as much as it would be against orders by an individual supervisor that would not go in by himself if he were alone and would be hesitant to make a decision by himself,an inexperienced supervisor that never had to make these types of decisions,If he were there with you,he wouldn't go in with you unless there were other officers on scene and wouldn't let you go in alone because he would have to explain why he didn't go with you,there are that kind of officers/supervisors.

I think Virginia tech was an economic decision because the first shootings were just before the end of shift.

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