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.