A frightened 7-year-old girl wrote a goodbye message to her parents when a bomb threat was called into her school. Little Vanessa wasn’t sure what the outcome of the threat would be. So, in case anything bad happened, she rolled up the left sleeve of her kitten sweatshirt sleeves and wrote, “Love Mom and Dad” in purple marker.
Police turned up at the Odyssey Charter School in Wilmington, checked everything out, and declared the threat a hoax. Vanessa’s 10-year-old brother also attends the school. It wasn’t until well after they returned home that their mom, Shelley Harrison Reed, realized the extent to which the incident scared her children.
Writing on Facebook, Reed wrote,
“It wasn’t until later when Vanessa was changing out of her school uniform that I saw this on her arm…
I say to her, why did you write that on your arm?
She says, in case the bad guy got to us and I got killed, you and daddy would know that I love you.”
Reed said she became upset when Vanessa then started to cry.
“I watched a little piece of her innocence get stolen away. To know that my 7 yo [year old] was put in a position to think that thought is absolutely gut-wrenching, and it’s killing me inside.”
The Facebook post has been shared 119,000 times and has generated 17,000 comments. The organization Moms Demand Action Delaware, which aims to reduce gun violence, also shared the Facebook post and encouraged other moms to get involved. “Let’s do better by this child and all children. Text JOIN to 644-33.”
Reed’s post has reignited a local discussion about school safety and readiness. Parents and educators are again reviewing drills and investigating other measures to help better-prepare children and teachers for threats at school.
In 2012, Governor Jack Markell enacted an Omnibus School Safety Act requiring the Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DSHS) to develop best practices responses to a number of potential emergency threats in schools, including bomb threats, hostage situations, intruders, suicide attempts, national terrorism advisories and other incidents. The Omnibus act required DSHS to:
- develop all-hazard comprehensive school safety plans
- create school safety teams
- collaborate with relevant first responders
- conduct critical incident drills and tabletop exercises
Two former FBI agents with decades of law enforcement experience now work full time for Wilmington University’s newly established Criminal Justice Institute. They are training first responders – law enforcement, public safety professionals and often times the teachers themselves – to be better prepared for violent encounters.
Retired Special Agent Dr. Raymond J Carr and retired FBI agent Scott Duffy have developed a first response safety program, The Stop Program, that focuses on violent encounters, active shooters, armed intruders and perpetrators, pre-behavioral indicators and the importance of an individual’s response to dangerous situations at schools, in the workplace and in other public spaces.
They presented active shooter training sessions at Brandywine School District’s Concord High School last August and hope to offer to present The Stop Program to any of the state’s other school districts, charter and private schools at the start of the 2019 school year.
“Ensuring that best practices are in place in our schools through an interactive presentation by two veteran law enforcement trainers is incredibly valuable,” said says Brandywine School District superintendent Dr. Mark Holodick.
Dr. Carr served in the FBI for 25 years and is the director of Wilmington University’s Criminal Justice Institute. He says active assailant cases are growing, having high impacts and are devastating consequences to entire communities. Carr says we live in a society with copycat offenders, which means everyone – including students – needs to be prepared.
According to the FBI, there was one active shooter case in 2000. That number grew to 30 active assailant incidents in 2017. And Carr says people need to be aware that guns are not the only threat.
“Many of these offenders are coming at you with cars, knives, bombs, and of course guns. So we are starting to call them active assailants — an individual attempting to kill people in a confined area in any number of ways,” said Carr.
Retired FBI agent Scott Duffy also administers The Stop Program with Carr. He says surviving a violent attack requires both mental preparation – “mental readiness is 75% of the battle” — and physical preparation.
Their tips for preparedness include:
1 Learning to recognize suspicious behaviors to better identify assailants
The Wilmington University educators say there are typically common behavioral motives but that most people fail to pay attention to warning signs.
Carr: “They are extremely angry, they believe they are being persecuted, which causes paranoia, which leads to depression. Many are anti-social and narcissistic. They usually have had a major loss related to employment or relationship.”
2 Raising awareness levels
Duffy: “We call it scanning. Being aware of people and your surroundings. and if someone does not wave to you or acknowledge you, that’s an immediate sign. You want to be relaxed but alert. Cautious but not tense.”
3 Engaging in target hardening
Carr: “Essentially you want to make it more difficult for the normal offender to follow through. They can do this on their own or as part of an organization or company – technology, environmental design, security other procedures.”
4 Developing the skill and mental mindset to survive when it happens
Carr and Duffy call this the Run-Hide-Fight strategy. Carr: “Our top advice is for people to run as far as they can and escape. Don’t worry about your personal belongings. If others won’t come with you, just go. Some people just freeze.
“There will be some situations where you can’t do that. If the hinges are on the inside of a door, you can barricade yourself. You can use your belt, an extension cord, a purse strap and use that to prevent the door from being open.
“Believe it or not, these individuals don’t want to have trouble gaining entry because their mindset is that they want to create as much carnage as they can. So they might move on.
“The quicker you make the choicer the better situation you will be in. These things happen extremely fast.”
What to do when police arrive
Carr and Duffy also explained that understanding the police’s role in a dangerous situation can be helpful. Their primary goal is to neutralize the threat and get close to the shooter. Said Duffy, “They will be moving quickly. If you see law enforcement, keep your hands open so they don’t see you as a threat. Once you’re out, stay out and run. Run to a door and get out. We also encourage people not to pull the fire alarm.”
For more information about the Wilmington University Criminal Justice Institute, contact Dr. Raymond Carr at firstname.lastname@example.org .