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Training Educators How to Respond to Shootings

Columbine, Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook — these schools have become the targets of shootings, provoking conversation about mental health and gun safety.

Now an “active shooter” training event will be held at the Homer Center School District in Indiana County Wednesday for all educators.

Psychologist Ralph May, one of the speakers, said there will be nine presentations walking the educators through an “active shooter” event.

“So it’s really designed to teach educators, school staff, how these events happen, how to recognize warning signs and how to kind of protect the school and protect the children when these events take place and then afterwards how to deal with the psychological ramifications of an active shooter event,” May said.

May defined an “active shooter event” as an individual coming into a facility and opening fire.

May emphasized that it’s not threatening to shoot; it’s actually coming in and firing.

“Many of the events that have reached the public eye … the person, the shooter just comes in and starts shooting, there’s no warning, there’s no talking, there’s no indications, it just happens, so there’s no opportunity to intervene with the shooter before the shooting actually begins,” May said.

But he said schools need to have a plan on how to handle such a situation and be able to recognize an individual at risk, and that goes beyond arming guards and bulletproof glass.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed a law allowing public and private Pennsylvania schools to compete for grants for armed security guards in early July.

May said there is no one specific profile of someone who might open fire, but there are broad warning signs that the individual is under stress.

“Now one of the things that’s most important in the research that’s been done on these events is that most of these individuals communicate in advance that they’re going to do something, some as much as outright say it to people, but they’re ignored because it’s thought to just be an off the cuff remark or they wouldn’t really do anything,” Ralph said.

He said there are cases where the individual is not doing well academically, their performance is deteriorating and their behavior has changed but people, including the individual, ignore those warning signs.

The Columbine and Virginia Tech shooters were students, but the gunman at Sandy Hook was not.

He said if shots are fired, the most important thing is to lock yourself in a safe place.

“Make sure your door’s locked, barricaded if necessary, make the office dark, get yourself small and be quiet and wait for law enforcement,” May said.  “If you can escape safely from the facility, escape from the facility. There’s no evidence that trying to talk to a shooter is ever effective.”

Jess is from Elizabeth Borough, PA and is a junior at Duquesne University with a double major in journalism and public relations. She was named as a fellow in the WESA newsroom in May 2013.