Rapid Response: How the San Bernardino massacre differs from other mass killings

The manner in which the assault on the Inland Regional Center was carried out holds some hallmarks of attacks we have seen overseas such as in Paris and Mali last month, and Mumbai in 2008


What Happened: San Bernardino was rocked Wednesday when multiple killers — reportedly three — unleashed a hail of gunfire on innocent victims attending a holiday celebration at the Inland Regional Center, a facility that serves people with developmental disabilities such as autism. 

According to San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan, at least 14 people were killed, and at least 14 others were taken to area hospitals with varying degrees of injuries. 

A San Bernardino Police spokeswoman told reporters that the assailants fled the scene in a black SUV — at the time of this writing (1500 hours Pacific Time), the manhunt for the attackers is ongoing.

Why it’s Significant: This is yet another violent attack on a “soft target” in an American city. The terrible fact is, active-killer incidents are becoming altogether too common. Sadly, this is the second such incident in the span of a week — Colorado Springs was struck Friday — and the latest in a spate of cases where mayhem is unleashed in a place that is largely unprotected. In Charleston (S.C.) it was a church, in Roseburg (Ore.) it was a community college, and in New Orleans it was an outdoor “block party” with hundreds of revelers. 

Top Takeaways: Unlike those soft targets mentioned above, this attack in particular has several elements which are unique from prior attacks here in the United States. The manner in which the assault on the Inland Regional Center was carried out holds some hallmarks of attacks we have seen overseas such as in Paris and Mali last month, and Mumbai in 2008. And those hallmarks have significance for police and the public alike. 

1. First and foremost, it’s significant there were a group of attackers as opposed to a lone gunman. This indicates that these three individuals somehow escaped suspicion during all five phases of the active shooter — fantasy, planning, preparation, approach, and implementation. This indicates a level of secrecy and sophistication higher than one would generally encounter with a single attacker. This also shows that this is not an instance of “workplace” violence in which a disgruntled employee decides to exact some sick form of revenge on former or current colleagues. 
2. Often in the aftermath of such shootings, the killer is found to be mentally unstable. It will be difficult to make the argument that three mentally-ill subjects got together to commit an atrocious act in San Bernardino. These are probably deliberate men who are “sane” from a medical perspective — but “sick” from a societal perspective. 
3. Frequently, the assailants die at the scene — either by their own hand or by police officers responding to the scene. The gunmen in San Bernardino did not linger at the scene and managed to escape. Perhaps this demonstrates the intention of committing another attack, or perhaps it denotes the simple desire to have killed as many people as possible and gotten away with it. Only time will tell. 
4. According to witnesses, the gunmen wore camouflage BDUs, body armor, and even balaclavas to keep their faces hidden. They committed their attack quickly and then, just as quickly, retreated to safety. This appeared to have been a coordinated and well-thought-out plan — as appalling as it is to admit it, they seemed to at least have had some tactical training and ability.
5. Police also reportedly used a robot to detonate a suspicious package found inside the building, according to the reports. If that truly was an explosive device, the threat level posed by these three men (assuming the reports of three gunmen is accurate) increases significantly. 

What’s Next: With the gunmen still at large, it would not be a surprise to find out that another attack is imminent. These men clearly are bent on taking lives, and because they are still at large, the specter of more mayhem looms large. Once police make contact with the assailants, violence is a highly probable outcome. 

What we know for certain is next is a massive manhunt — not since the hunt for Christopher Dorner has Southern California law enforcement been so mobilized. These men may prove to be even more difficult to find due to the fact that as of this moment, their identities are unknown. They may be able to simply slip back into their daily lives, biding time until their next evil deed. 

What is also next — and will remain so forever — is that cops like those who rushed to the scene today will run toward the sound of the guns while others run away. They will put their lives on the line to protect life, because when it comes to protecting life, law enforcement officers are experts without equal. 

Stay safe out there. 

Further Reading:
Active shooters in schools: Should teachers be trained by police firearms instructors?
Colo. massacre: Educating the public on the five phases of the active shooter
Active shooters in schools: How far have we come since Sandy Hook?
Newtown shooting: Why Minutemen can protect against active shooters
Active shooters in schools: The enemy is denial

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