On Monday, Oct 24th, a 19-yr-old former student of CVPA High School in St. Louis entered his alma mater and killed a student, 15-yr-old Alexzandria Bell, and a teacher, 61-yr-old Jean Kuczka.  I’m purposely omitting the shooter’s name as I don’t believe in glorifying or publicizing his identity.

The widely-reported timeline of the shooting is as follows:

  • 9:10 AM: Shooter enters the building, “not via the main entrance”.
  • 9:11 AM: School security guard sees the entry and notifies the school.  911 is called.
  • 9:15 AM: Police arrive at the school and begin trying to locate the shooter.
  • 9:23 AM: Police locate the shooter, barricaded in a classroom, and a firefight ensues.
  • 9:25 AM: Shooter neutralized.

School administration and police officials have made several statements lauding this as a success story, highlighting the quick actions of the security guards and police response, and the fact that this could have been “much worse”.

Indeed, it could have been much worse.  Put a competent shooter with an AR-15 and 600-odd rounds of ammunition in a building with 700 defenseless and unarmed students and teachers, give that shooter an uncontested 13 minutes, and you could count yourself lucky that there weren’t 200 dead.  The shooter’s own notebook attested to his desire to be the “deadliest school shooter in history”.

I take issue with several aspects of this “success story”.  In the Secret Service, if someone you are protecting ends up injured or dead, that’s known as mission failure.  You don’t congratulate yourselves that several other people managed to survive.  It also doesn’t ultimately matter if nine out of ten of your security measures worked perfectly; the one measure that didn’t is your single point of compromise, and the end result is failure.  We define “success” as zero dead or injured.

From a security perspective, what did go right on that day?

  • Allegedly, all exterior doors to the building were locked
  • Seven (!) security guards were present at the high school
  • 911 was notified very quickly
  • Code phrase for “Active Shooter” was announced over the PA, and (most) classroom doors were apparently manually locked
  • Police responded very quickly, located the shooter in eight minutes, and immediately engaged and neutralized him

Parents and students outside the school. Source: Reuters

What went wrong?

  • Two victims dead.  Four others shot but not critically
  • “All exterior doors” locked, but the shooter got in anyway.  It has not been indicated how this was accomplished, but we can assume either forcing someone at gunpoint to open a door, or (more likely) using the butt of the rifle to break door glass and open it
  • Seven security guards, but none of them armed, which relegated their role to “alarm system”.  These seven had no realistic ability to engage the shooter and stop him
  • Teacher Jean Kuczka was shot in classroom 323, apparently as she physically confronted the shooter.  This indicates the door of that classroom was not locked in time, unable to be locked, or the shooter was able to force the door in some fashion
  • As stated above, thirteen minutes of unimpeded access to a target-rich environment is an eternity.  Apparently the shooter’s gun jammed at least once, but that’s a lucky break, not something you rely on occurring

There are many lessons to be learned here, but the tragedy is that we’re still trying to learn these lessons despite the same things happening over and over again.  While the police performed brilliantly in this instance, we still ended up with two dead.  School security needs to be proactive — detecting the shooter before they arrive on campus, and failing that, making sure the shooter can’t enter the building.  Once you have to rely on reactive security procedures, you’re left with the proverbial outcomes of a rock and a hard place.

Learn more about what Hawkeye S3 can do to secure schools.