PoliceOne Columnist Dan Marcou delivered an outstanding talk on active shooter incidents, synthesizing and expanding upon his article from several years ago, 5 phases of the active shooter and his most recent, Preparing for the three dimensional response to the active shooter response. Before getting any deeper into the content of his presentation, let’s review.
Five Phases of the Active Shooter:
• Fantasy Stage
• Planning Stage
• Preparation Stage
• Approach Stage
• Implementation Stage
Three Dimensions of Active Shooter Response:
• On-Duty and Armed
• Off-Duty and Armed
• Unarmed Any Time
Marcou began his presentation by recounting the story that leads his most recent PoliceOne article, in which an unarmed officer ends the threat of a courtroom active shooter. He said that officers responding to an active shooter incident may move quietly to a position of advantage, and not have to notify the shooter of their presence.
“You have to also realize,” he said, “that the shooter will be experiencing tunnel vision, and then take the shot and make the shot if the shooter is creating an imminent threat. And remember that the greater danger rule applies here. Which represents the greater threat, the active shooter set on more killing or you, ready to intervene and end the threat? And you have to answer the question, should I go in and end this? Should I wait for a team to come to the scene? I cannot answer those questions — those are only answerable on a case-by-case basis. So, I’m not telling you what to do. I always say, ‘eight is better than six, six is better than four, four is better than two, two is better than one — and one, one is better than none.’ Ultimately, the initial responding officer has to make that decision.”
The Justin Garner Formation
In a sense, however, Marcou gave some guidance for future instances of those questions, by talking about what he called “The Justin Garner Formation.” Recall that Justin Garner, who has since been called the Standing Hero of Carthage (North Carolina), responded to an active shooter killing innocents on a Sunday morning at the Pine Lake Health and Rehab Center for the elderly.
“How many coppers do you think were available in that town of three thousand people on a Sunday morning? Probably just one, right? Yeah, Justin was the only cop who could end that threat that day. And that’s what he did. When he rolled into the lot at the facility he saw a red Ford Ranger with driver’s side window shot out. He gets out of his car and suddenly a female came running to the door: ‘There’s a man inside and he’s shooting people!’ I talked with Justin after this event and he told me, ‘I knew that someone was shooting people in there and I thought to myself, I have to find this guy’.”
Once inside, Garner came upon Robert Stewart, carrying a 12-gauge shotgun and a bag of ammunition, and as Stewart was in the midst of reloading, Garner sighted the suspect with his duty pistol, shouted three times for him to drop the weapon, and saw the gunman turn and level his shotgun at him. Garner fired one round, ending the threat.
An Effective, Efficient Act of Courage
Toward the end of his presentation Marcou, told a story that’s also been recounted in the pages of Chuck Remsberg’s excellent book, Blood Lessons, then recounted an active shooter incident in which he was an ad-hoc participant. In Rembserg’s book, it’s called “Waking up to Carnage” but in Marcou’s self-effacing and supremely-humble style, he called it simply “Oak Creek.”
I’ll call it an effective, efficient act of courage.
In the very small hours of November 5, 2004, Marcou was asleep in his hotel room at the Comfort Suites Hotel in Oak Ridge, Wisconsin. He awoke to the sound of gunfire.
Gregg P. Phillips, wearing body armor and carrying a Uzi 9mm, was intent upon fatally shooting his girlfriend, Sandra Wisniewski.
Marcou explained, “I was all disheveled, just out of bed, and got to the lobby in time to introduce myself to the Oak Creek officer who was responding to the scene. ‘You have a gun?’ he asked. ‘No.’ Well, he was a SWAT officer, and he had two guns on him — and remember, if he didn’t, I could have gone out to his squad car, which is basically a rolling arsenal — and he gave one to me. He keyed his radio, and looked right at me when he described what I was wearing and told dispatch he had given me authority to enter the fight. And just like that, by mutual aid I was now a cop in the town of Oak Creek. Then he told me to cover the lobby, and he went up to the second floor to find the shooter.”
Negotiators are Black Belts in Dialog
As the event transpired, Phillips had just about ran out of ammo, and taken a hostage in one of the rooms upstairs. Marcou had been directing fleeing innocents into a room he was protecting to his rear, and communicating with the front desk clerk (herself a cop’s daughter), as she calmly answered calls from frightened guests.
“She answered a call, turned to me, and said, ‘It’s him, it’s the guy.’ I took the phone and I started talking with him. As a SWAT officer I thought I might one day have to talk with a barricaded suspect, so I had taken a course in negotiation skills. I talked with this guy for a while — I don’t even know for how long, it could have been an hour. I got him to put the hostage on the phone. I asked the hostage a whole bunch of yes-or-no questions, you know, just how they train you to do. ‘Does he have a gun?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Does he have more than one gun?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Does he look like he’s going to use those guns?’ ‘Hell yes’.”
Eventually, due to Marcou’s quiet, deliberate, efficient, and effective act of courage, the gunman surrendered to police. He had killed two people and injured two others but the killing had ended there.
Heroics of the “Ordinary” Man
Marcou continued his dissertation, examining the actions of numerous cops. He also mentioned the heroic actions of a handful of civilians, like Principal John Klang, who gave his life to save dozens of students at Cazenovia, Wisconsin, September 29, 2006, and 59-year-old Vietnam Veteran “Airborne” Eric Fullerton, who twice disarmed and thwarted the murderous intent of Curtis Allgier, (who had been armed with a gun and a knife and roughly three times bigger than Fullerton).
He then asked, “Has anyone here ever been involved in an active shooter incident. Two attendees raised their hands and recounted their stories, including Andy Brown, a Senior Enforcement Specialist with Customs and Border Patrol, who the previous day had given a presentation on his encounter at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Due to a scheduling conflict, I was unable to attend his talk, so I spoke with Brown after Marcou’s session had ended. He told me that at the time, he was an Air Force Security Policeman at Fairchild, and was working a swing shift as a Bike Patrolman. He responded to the radio call of shots fired, riding about a third of a mile on his bike to get there, and encountered the gunman.
After dismounting his bicycle, Brown shot five rounds from a distance estimated during the subsequent investigation to be between 68 and 71 yards, striking the gunman two times.
“I jumped off my bike, and took up a kneeling position. I yelled, ‘Police! Drop your weapon, put it down!’ but he kept coming in my direction. I took one shot, which I later learned was to the shoulder, but I didn’t even know I’d hit him because he kept coming,” said Brown.
That shoulder wound was superficial, Brow said, but his final shot was anything but superficial. It struck the gunman “on the bridge of the nose entering the corner of his left eye. The bullet traveled through his upper brain and exited at the base of his skull. The exit wound was just a small slit on his neck,” according to a document Brown provided to ILEETA attendees.
When Brown was involved in that shooting, he was just 24 years old. However, because he had joined the Air Force at age nineteen, he’d been a cop for five years. He now maintains a website about the incident with the purpose of creating memorial pages for those who were lost, providing updates on the survivors, and “giving access to the stories from the first responders, the people who were there, and anyone who has something to share.”
Trainers Draw The Fine Line
At the close of his presentation, Marcou said, “There’s a fine line between a name on a wall and a name on an award. You know who draws that line? You do. You do. The police trainer draws that line. Keep doing what you’re doing. Because of the trainers I had, I got to dance with my daughter at her wedding. If you prepare for that moment, and you never encounter that moment, then perhaps vicariously you will have prepared another officer for that moment.”
He further emphasized that an active shooter can happen at any time, to absolutely anyone, so officers must to be prepared for all three dimensions — on duty and armed, off duty and armed, and unarmed at any time.
“I don’t care what your job is, whether you are behind a desk, whether you’re in community services, whether you’re a School Resource Officer, it is you, the people who go out and instruct our young officers, who can impart on them the skills and abilities to be successful and win. You people attending ILEETA, you are the reason I will always keep police officers high up on that pedestal I put you on when I was four years old. I’m so honored — I can’t even tell you how honored I am — to have the opportunity to speak to you... Stay safe, stay strong, stay positive.”