In what should go down in history as another attack that could have been prevented... should have been prevented... on May 20, 1988, Laurie Ann (Wasserman) Dann committed several criminal acts before going to the Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Illinois. Most of the information about Dann prior to the attacks was discovered by the police in the post-event investigation, so that’s where we’ll put it here, farther down. Let’s start looking at this incident on the morning it was committed - at about 9 a.m. on May 20th.
That morning, having been employed as a baby-sitter, Dann visited the homes of several families for whom she had previously worked babysitting. She delivered snacks and juice drinks to those homes, all which were later to be found poisoned with arsenic. She also visited several fraternity houses at Northwestern University where she had attended classes but not graduated. To some of these deliveries, she attached notes, but others were just left at random with no indicated recipients. It’s worth noting that she hadn’t attended classes at Northwestern University for over five years and the homes where she delivered snacks/juices were places where she hadn’t worked for the families for years as well.
At about 9 a.m. that morning, after having made her deliveries, Dann went to a home in Winnetka and picked up the two youngest family children. She had worked for the family previously as a babysitter and had just found out the family was moving away. Under the guise of taking the two children on “an outing,” Dann instead drove them to Ravinia Elementary School in Highland Park, Illinois. Dann apparently believed that the children of her former sister-in-law went to school there. That school was the target of her first attack. Leaving the two children in the car, Dann went into the school and detonated a fire bomb in a side hallway. After she’d left the school, the fire was found by students and extinguished by a faculty member. From there she went to a daycare center where her former sister-in-law’s daughter was and tried to make entry carrying a gas can. The daycare staff stopped her from entering.
From there she drove the two children back home, there luring the children and their mother to the basement where she trapped them and then set fire to the house. The mother and children managed to escape but Dann was already gone. She was on her way to Hubbard Woods Elementary School.
Dann had three handguns in her possession, apparently all morning (or in her vehicle the whole time) and had chosen to attempt to kill children by either poisoned snacks or burning them alive. Both are particularly evil and cruel methods of murder and demonstrate Dann’s mental / emotional condition at the time.
At Hubbard Woods she made entry with the three handguns on her person. One was a Beretta .22lr pistol; another was a S&W .357 revolver and the last was a S&W .32 caliber revolver. After making entry into the school, Dann’s first victim was a boy she pushed into a bathroom and then shot with the .22lr. She tried to shoot two other boys who were in the bathroom with her .357 but it somehow malfunctioned and the boys managed to run away. Surely the alarm was raised at that point. Dann’s .357 revolver and the extra ammo she had for it were later found in that bathroom’s trash can where she’d apparently dumped them.
From the bathroom she entered a second grade classroom and ordered all of the students into one corner of the room. The teacher refused to cooperate and struggled with Dann. The .22lr pistol Dann had was unloaded in the struggle (kudos to that teacher), forcing Dann to resort to her last handgun - the S&W .32. With it she shot five children, killing one of them and wounding four others. She then fled the school and escaped to a nearby residence. She told the residents that she’d been raped and shot her rapist and they treated her with sympathy, giving her assistance. Soon though they realized all was not right and alerted the police. Dann shot the youngest resident present, a 20-year old man, who escaped out the back door of the house before collapsing. He was rescued by the police and ambulance personnel.
Police surrounded the house and negotiations began. Hours later, at approximately 7 p.m., police entered the house where they found Dann’s body in a bedroom. She had shot herself in the head by putting the gun in her mouth and pulling the trigger.
In part 2 we’ll take a look at the post incident investigation.