Based on the FBI’s definition of an active shooter event as that which results in four or more deaths, including the shooter. In this case, two of the deaths occurred at a different location than that of the original attack and appears to have, more than likely, been related to a domestic disagreement. Additionally, whereas most active shooter events involve the shooter going to a specific location to start and perform their attack, in this case it seems that the shooter was already there, got into some sort of quarrel, shot the female victim and then two males (who may have tried to intervene?). The shooter then fled the scene, going only about a mile where he crashed his car. There, he forcibly entered the home of an elderly couple by shooting out a glass door and making entry. Inside, he shot the male home owner whose wife had taken refuge inside a bathroom to call 9-1-1. Before police could arrive, the shooter killed himself with a single shot to the head.
Of the two males shot inside the bar, which itself was located inside a hotel in State College, PA, roughly two miles from Pennsylvania State University, one was killed and the other severely injured. The second man died from his injuries the next day in the hospital. The woman who was shot, allegedly the shooter’s girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, was injured by shots to her torso which not only caused major organ damage but also spinal damage. She was still in the hospital several weeks later and preparing for spinal recovery treatments according to an online post she made in a group created to support her.
The shooter, 21-year-old Jordan Witmer, was apparently in the bar with the female victim at about 10:30pm on the evening of January 24th, 2019, when he began his shooting attack. Dean Beachy, 62-years-old, was visiting the area as an auctioneer and in the company of his son, Steve. Witmer shot both Dean and Steve, killing Dean on the scene. Steve was transported to an area hospital with critical injuries and reportedly died the next day. Fleeing the bar, Witmer broke into the home, as described above, of George and Joanna McCormick, killing George therein. According to statements from police during the post event investigation, there was no connection between Witmer and the McCormick’s. Their house was apparently chosen at random after Witmer wrecked his car.
Not a lot has been published about Witmer, nor can much be found via the Internet. it’s a comment on societal perception that this shooting event, with no apparent connection to a school other than remote proximity, and a relatively low casualty count (four including the shooter) didn’t make more of a showing in the national news services. Most of the coverage to be found is from the local outlets. What has been published is that Witmer was 21 years old, had a legal permit to carry a handgun, and had served in the military. Whether or not he was in the military at the time of the attack, or even if he was active duty, reserve or National Guard hasn’t been released that this author can find.
There are two related topics to this event that did receive some press coverage, even though one had little to do with the actual attack or the victims, and the second had to do with the hotel bar itself providing emotional care and support for its staff after the attack.
From what can be understood via reading the published news pieces, the attack began around 10:30 and Witmer was found dead before 11pm. That’s less than 30 minutes from the start of the attack, to him fleeing, to him crashing, to him breaking into the McCormick’s house and then killing himself after killing George McCormick. In that time, Pennsylvania State University’s campus police department were aware of the shooting and assessing whether or not a campus alert needed to be issued. The campus police Chief accepted full responsibility for the decision not to release an alert because by the time enough information was known to make it a viable option, the situation had been secured and no further threat existed. In fact, the threat never made it closer to campus than one mile. That said, Penn State students took to social media berating the campus police and the university for not having issued an alert. The thrust of that social media campaign had an entire article written about it in a local paper... as if that was equal in importance to the murder of three people and attempted murder of a fourth miles away.
The positive thing that was reported was the reaction of the hotel bar management staff. One manager stated that they brought in specially trained K9s from a non-profit organization that had dogs and counselors. The teams debriefed the staff and while the counselors could offer insights and conversation, the dogs provided comfort and presence. As the manager said, “When you see a dog, you smile.” Sitting, talking to a counselor, with a gentle dog’s head in your lap that you can pet often adds a level of comfort to the situation and helps to calm those involved or who witnessed the shooting.
The question to the reading audience is, Was this an “active shooter” event? Or was this a crime of domestic violence that spread to include three additional victims as the perpetrator made sure he got away, fled and then found himself somewhat trapped?