If there is one common characteristic that can be cited about every active shooter event to date it’s this: chaos reigns. LtCol Dave Grossman often speaks about how our school systems have long since mastered response to fires by executing regular fire drills, equipping every room with a fire extinguisher and building the schools themselves so that they are fire retardant as well as equipped with sprinkler systems, etc. Doing the equivalent to that but in response to a shooting attack is near impossible. That said, lock down drills do occur and there are some schools who do a great job of planning for, and practicing response to, and active shooter event. Even so, the completely unpredictable response caused by human nature will negate huge portions of the planned response protocols.
Such was the situation at Marshall County High School on January 23, 2018 when then-15-year-old Gabriel R. Parker took a Ruger handgun (allegedly his step-father’s gun) into the school and opened fire in a common area. The attack is reported to have started before eight a.m. and prior to the start of classes. Parker’s attack was definitely premeditated based on his statements made during the post-event investigation and the fact that he went to check on friends before he began shooting others. He apparently wanted to make sure his friends wouldn’t be endangered and were safe from his attack.
In what is truly a sad state of events, two 15-year-olds were killed in the attack: one on the scene, and one after being transported to the hospital. The student who died on the scene is reported to have called her mother on her cell phone, but unable to speak to her due to her injuries. That’s a heartbreaking scenario and our condolences go out to every parent who has lost a child to a shooting event.
The attack resulted in two dead and eighteen injured. Of the eighteen, fourteen were wounded by the gunfire with another four injured during escape attempts and the chaos that ensued. According to reports, students fled the immediate scene to either hide elsewhere in the school or out of the building all together and into the surrounding woods. During that chaos, it’s reported that Parker ditched the gun he had used and joined other students hiding in the school’s weight room. Most of the students he was hiding with were apparently (obviously) unaware that he was the person who had committed the attack. At least one student WAS aware though and reported Parker’s presence to a faculty member who then alerted the responding law enforcement personnel. Parker was arrested on the school grounds approximately ten minutes after the attack started.
No information could be found by this author on the model of handgun, caliber or capacity but with two dead and fourteen more wounded, especially taking into consideration the types of wounds received among those fourteen, it can be safely assumed that Parker fired through one magazine’s worth of ammunition and then ditched the weapon. Most contemporary 9mm handguns would hold a sufficient supply of ammunition for that casualty count. It’s reported that immediately after the attack, many students sought to assist the wounded by removing them from the space wherein the attack occurred. In September of 2018 the entire student body was awarded the 911 Hero Award in recognition of their actions and response to the attack.
Immediately following his attack, as Parker was hiding with other students, he reportedly called his mother to report that there had been a shooting at the school and that he was scared. That call, along with his actions to attempt to blend in with other students in hiding, demonstrated his intent to not only survive the shooting but escape discovery or prosecution. In other words, he was trying to get away with it. This modus operandi differs from most school shooters who either plan to commit suicide or to engage responding to police so they can die in the ensuing gun fight. This intent to survive, evade arrest and escape prosecution is a growing trend as we’ve seen by the behavior of various shooters from Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS to the Chabad of Poway Attack to the Highlands Ranch STEM School Shooting.
This is a trend law enforcement needs to be aware of and incorporate into all training evolutions. While the possibility of an active shooter event transitioning into a hostage barricade situation has always been taken into consideration, it was generally believed that an active shooter would be engaged by police while they were still shooting; still presenting a threat. Arrest was always a secondary goal to neutralizing the immediate threat. With a growing number of attackers now obviously intending to survive, some of the training needs to focus more on weeding suspects out of hiding, or capturing them before they can travel far and potentially present a threat to a larger community outside their original attack space.