On the same day the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred in Newtown, there was another active shooter attack prevented. Because it occurred during the same news cycle as the attack in Connecticut, the Bartlesville (Okla.) case received very little attention.
However, it demonstrated what may be the perfect community response to the active shooter, if there is such a thing as perfection.
What happened, and what didn’t happen, to keep a school safe that day?
Seventeen-year-old Sammie Eaglebear Chavez described himself as a “fairly popular” high school student, but his popularity did not prevent him from hating his fellow students so much he dreamed of killing them.
Sammie was a member of the “Bruins Excellence” program, which was a high school alternate educational track for troubled teens. Sammie also considered himself a Juggalo. These are young people who are cultish followers of the musical group The Insane Clown Posse, whose symbol is The Hatchetman.
Chavez spent much of his alternate high school study time researching the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres. At home he carved the word “Murder” into a table his mother called “The Murder Table.” He also carved into the table “Barbie ... Peek-a-boo Chop You Up.”
The date carved next to the name corresponded with the date a woman named Barb was hacked to death with hatchets by 13-year-olds.
During an active shooter lockdown exercise at Bartlesville High School, Eaglebear’s teacher, some other students — as well as Sammie — hunkered down in their designated lockdown area. After a period of time, the unarmed school security officer Mr. Miller called, “Come on out. It’s all clear.”
Sammie, apparently thinking out loud, was heard to comment, “All I have to do is sound like Mr. Miller and everyone will come out.”
Like so many of his heroes, Sammie kept a journal, which documented his intentions. Chavez wrote in his journal, “These thoughts of hurting and killing others has [sic] become comforting.”
He projected he would be “remembered forever.” Chavez further pondered in his writings, “How many times must the freaks, wierdos [sic], punks, and geeks shoot up a school or bomb a building before they start leaving all of us express ourselves how we want without ridiculing or ostresizing [sic] us.”
As Sammie’s plan gelled, he came to the conclusion he would need help to ensure success. He decided to recruit accomplices, whose job it would be to herd a large group of students into the Fine Arts Center.
Sammie planned on chaining the doors to prevent the escape of his intended victims.
He planned on planting pipe bombs at entrances to kill the police officers, who would be summoned once the killing began.
Chavez was able to somehow procure a Marlin M-1 .22 caliber rifle with a stock sawed off into a pistol grip, making it easier to conceal. He also obtained a black trench coat.
In the cafeteria of his high school, he shared his plan in total with a friend, hoping to recruit an accomplice. His friend was chilled by the disclosure, but concealed their horror long enough to get clear of Chavez.
Chavez had threatened that death would be the punishment for betrayal.
After Chavez’s friend talked with another student about Chavez’s intentions, the students decided to ask their parents for advice. The parents reacted immediately and took the students to the principal, who in turn contacted the Safe School coordinator, Kerry Ickleberry — whose husband just happens to be Lieutenant Kevin Ickleberry of the Bartlesville Police Department.
Armed with this initial information, Lieutenant Ickleberry partnered up with school resource officer Korie Plummer to conduct interviews to determine the seriousness of the threat. They combed the files of Sammie Eaglebear Chavez’s school computer and discovered thousands of queries on Virginia Tech, Columbine, bomb making, and weapons — all made during school hours.
Based on the information they uncovered, they obtained a search warrant for Chavez’s residence and an arrest warrant for Sammie. After initial attempts to locate Sammie failed, Ickleberry gave the information out to third-shift officers, who were able to locate the suspect and take him into custody without incident at 0420 hours (local time) on December 14, 2012.
While conducting a search, Ickleberry and Officer Jacob Moran discovered personal writings that revealed Chavez’s murderous intent.
They found the rifle, which was to be used in the attack, and the chilling “Murder Table.”
As the search warrant progressed, it became apparent that the combined effort of the students, parents, school officials and officers had prevented a tragedy like the one that was playing out at Sandy Hook Elementary School as the Bartlesville Officers were searching the Chavez home.
Adjudication and Advice
Sammie Eaglebear Chavez was held on a one million dollar bond. He recently was tried and convicted of planning to cause bodily harm.
The jury recommended a 30-month sentence for the would-be active shooter. He awaits sentencing.
In an exclusive PoliceOne interview, Lieutenant Kevin Ickleberry shared his insight in hopes it might help other officers who in the future may have to respond to a report that someone might be homicidal.
“Take the first report seriously, follow up, talk to witnesses, and be thorough,” he said.
The combined effort of citizens, school officials and the Bartlesville Police Department proved the best time to stop the active shooter/killer is during the early stages. Here is a reminder of the phases most travel through:
1.) The Fantasy Phase
2.) The Planning Phase
3.) The Preparation Phase
4.) The Approach Phase
5.) The Implementation Phase
There is an old saying, “Strike while the iron is hot.” The life-saving effort in Bartlesville shows that in the case of the active shooter/killer, to prevent a tragedy it is best to strike long before the iron heats up.