Each day new information emerges about the law enforcement response to the mass shooting at Robb Elementary school in Uvalde (Texas), that resulted in the deaths of 19 students and 2 teachers.
Critics point out the failures in nearly every step of the response. The school's resource officer drove past the shooter while he was hunched over between cars; the police waited more then an hour before entering the classroom; the chief of school cops showed up without his radio, and stopped treating this incident as an active shooter situation. Katherine Schweit, a former FBI Special Agent, created the active shooter program for the agency after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. She is also the author of Stop The Killing, How To End The Mass Shooting Crisis. NPR's All Things Considered invited her to share her view on Uvalde's law enforcement response and strategies for teachers and students to improve their chances of surviving a mass shooter.
This interview was lightly edited to increase clarity and length.
Here is her reaction to the police response:
I will tell you the truth, you know. I was shocked. It was shocking. It was shock at first. It was disbelief. Since I started this project, they are not the only law enforcement agency to have had some difficulties in responding to situations. This was so real, so difficult to watch it unfold right in front our eyes. It is unheard of that law enforcement could be found for over an hour on the other end of a wall. If I had written a script, I wouldn't have been able to write this. It would have been hard for people to believe.
What would an ideal response have been, according to the active-shooter program she created?
Let me clarify a bit. The FBI has been promoting law enforcement training for years. It requires that if there is active firing, even if only one officer is involved, you must follow the sounds of the shooting or the location where the shooter is. You must go all the way to the shooter, and then neutralize him. This is your only objective and you must not lose sight of it.
If they are trained, law enforcement officers should keep moving forward. This includes breaking through doors, shooting through doors. I can see the dangers they are taking, and it's not hard to understand why. I do not want to harm a child. Although I don't wish to hurt a child, we must pursue, pursue and pursue because the shooters already have shown that they are willing to kill people. It is important to keep moving forward, even though you have to go through walls, windows, doors, and other obstacles.
She says that children should be taught to flee before they hide.
As I worked with Vice President Biden's team to find solutions after Sandy Hook, one of our decisions was that all federal agencies agreed that "run, hide and fight" is what people should do during a shooting. "Run, hide, fight" teaches us how to do the "run" part first. We're only teaching the hide' part to our children in school, but not the run' part. That's something we don't do anywhere else in society. In a mall, we don't tell children, "OK, just hide." You can hide under the Starbucks kiosk bench, whatever's happening. We missed the opportunity to educate children and adults in schools. This is the first thing they should do. They must flee.
If that's your only option, then you should fight. Fighting the shooter should be as hard and long as possible. There are so many stories of heroic people who fought and ran. A few children escaped Sandy Hook Elementary School after their teacher stood up and stopped the shooter. They escaped through a side door. Even more recently, the FBI has released training that teaches escape. Escape must be your first priority. It is impossible to be killed if your not there.
Here's what she told her daughter, a teacher in grade school:
These are the things I talk about with her because she is my baby. She is always my concern. If I can talk to her, it will be a chance for me to empower her. This includes letting her children run free from her schoolroom, even though the district doesn’t allow that. People don't realize how much control they have. They have so much power. Find out what your school is learning. Talk with your children about the things they are learning. Talk to your children about safety. Talk to them about stranger danger, stop, drop, and roll. You don't speak to them about their safety in a country with gun violence. You should.