On February 14, 2018, a shooter entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and killed 17 students and faculty members, injuring 17 more. The attack has recently resurfaced in the news, as the shooter was sentenced to life in prison just last week.
Much has already been said about this attack, which was responsible for several security policy changes across the country.
A short summary of the events of that day:
- The attacker, a 19-yr-old former student, was dropped off at the school at 2:19 PM by an Uber driver, carrying an AR-15-style rifle in a case as well as a backpack with over 600 rounds of ammunition
- Entered an unlocked side door and began indiscriminately targeting people he encountered
- Fire alarm on the first floor was triggered, causing confusion for students and staff on the third floor, who presumably did not hear (or misidentified) the gunshots. An active shooter alert is never announced
- Killed 6 of the victims, and injured 12 more, by shooting through the windows of locked classroom doors. “Hard corners” in many of these rooms were unavailable due to layout or furniture
- Five students killed while attempting to re-enter locked classrooms
- Ten students and a teacher on the third floor, believing this to be a fire drill, were in the hallway deciding what to do. On spotting the shooter, they attempted to flee down the hallway to an opposite staircase. Shooter kills two of them and wounds two more and the teacher
- Shooter fires through hurricane-reinforced windows of the third-floor teacher’s lounge at students evacuating outside, but the bullets’ trajectories through the hardened windows are presumably altered and no one is hit
- Dropped his rifle on the third floor (presumably because it jammed) and exited the school, blending in with evacuating students. He was arrested several miles away after being identified by witnesses and security cameras at the school
- Police response was confused and ineffective
- Shooter had multiple prior disciplinary issues and interactions with police and mental health professionals. Often made specific threats of school shooting. Multiple concerned teachers and community members had reported him
The security failures that day were numerous and as stated above, have been well-publicized:
- It was obvious to almost everyone who had encountered this attacker prior to the shooting that he was a danger, yet no direct intervention / incarceration / involuntary committal was enacted
- Unsecured side door to the school
- No “active shooter” alert announced, compounded by the confusion over the fire alarm (believed caused by ceiling-tile dust from bullet impact)
- Ineffective police response; an armed SRO present at the school cowered outside, and responding units set up an exterior checkpoint but made no effort to enter the school
- Shooter able to exit the school by blending with the crowd
While policies across the country have been enacted to address these failures, unfortunately, as we’ve so recently seen, many of these same problems keep occurring.
Additional issues that have not been discussed at length, or at all:
- As they had been taught to do, students and teachers who recognized that there was an active shooter situation hid in their classrooms. Classroom doors at the school were always locked from the hallway side, and indeed, the shooter was not able to physically enter any of the classrooms at the school. This was ultimately of little consolation, as six of the fatalities (and a dozen injured) were shot through the door windows. Since the shooter was well aware that each classroom held hiding people — he’d been drilled on this same thing his entire school career! — he was able to shoot those he could still see, or whom he suspected were hiding behind an overturned desk. Sheltering in place, when done en-masse at a school, is ineffective.
- Strangely — fortuitously — the shooter could have easily entered any of the classrooms, by simply reaching through the shattered glass and opening the door from the inside. Perhaps he did not realize that the doors could be opened that way, believing they were manually locked by a deadbolt.
- Five students were killed attempting to re-enter locked classrooms. As the doors were always locked from the outside, entry would have depended on someone inside opening the door, which would have then exposed all the people in that room to the gunman. As the students had been conditioned to retreat to classrooms, their reflexive decisions cost them their lives.
- On the third floor, the mass of students and a teacher in the hallway was caused by them not knowing there was an active shooter situation. Once they spotted the attacker, they did flee, but in a straight line away from him, which made them easier targets. Even so, only five of the eleven were hit (only two fatally), while facing a semi-automatic rifle at a distance of less than 30 yards. An extremely poor tactical situation from their perspective, with limited options, but their odds of survival increased enormously by choosing to move rather than remain stationary.
- The shooter’s rounds through the hurricane-reinforced windows of the teacher’s lounge failed to hit anyone down below. Presumably, the protective film on these windows — designed to keep the window from shattering from flying hurricane debris — altered the bullets’ trajectories. While the benefits of ballistic film or glass is obvious, an important lesson here is that even the least-expensive option (film) was enough to prevent the window from shattering by rifle fire; a shattered ground-floor window could allow a shooter access to the building. Additionally, such film, while not stopping the bullet, made targeting those on the other side of it impractical.