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NSC 2016: Learning from Columbine

Don Moseman, training director at North Dakota Safety Council, told National Safety Congress attendees about how law enforcement’s handling of active shooter situations has changed since the Columbine High School shooting.

April 20, 1999 – Two students walked into Columbine High School and began the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.

Thirteen students were murdered, 21 were wounded. In addition, 99 explosive devices were placed around the school building and facilities, but only three detonated.

“The intent was to kill every student, teacher and first responder,” said Don Moseman, training director at the North Dakota Safety Council.

Moseman was the fifth officer on scene on that day. At the time, law enforcement officers were instructed to stay out of the building. The tragedy was a turning point, a “cultural shift” for how active shooter situations are handled.

“Law enforcement’s job now is to go in and face the gunman, that’s what changed after Columbine,” he said.

Moseman spoke to National Safety Congress attendees about the prevalence of violence in U.S. society and mainstream media, how social media has changed bullying and what steps can be taken to prevent workplace violence.

“In a perfect world, I wish this session wasn’t necessary,” he told session attendees.

The topic of active shootings can be found in mainstream videogames, movies and songs. In one example, Moseman played band Foster the People’s hit song “Pumped-Up Kicks” while lyrics displayed on a large screen.

“How many times have you heard this song and not paid attention to the lyrics,” he asked.

With school shootings, of all the cases he has seen, only two have not been a result of bullying.

Social media has changed the bullying game. Before, children could go home after school and leave the hateful words in the classroom. Now, social media has made it possible for children to post hateful messages 24/7.

Moseman cited an incident that happened at his daughter’s school in which one student received more than 200 social media messages after being made fun of at school earlier in the day.

In the workplace, shooters could be triggered by job loss of a spouse, workplace issues, domestic violence issues, depression because of monetary issues, etc. Whatever the cause, shooters already make the decision to commit the act and plan ahead of time.

“Once they’ve made that decision, that person is like a train on a track – they’re very hard to derail,” he said.

A shooter will scope or plan out the incident. In mass shooter situations, researchers have found that the perpetrator reads about prior active shooting situations in order to learn from past mistakes.

“We now know that shooters are learning from previous shootings,” he said.

It’s also common for the person to show an increased interest in weapons, make a threat or change their mannerisms and behaviors before committing an act, Moseman said.

He discussed a security company in Minnesota that averages six requests per day for personnel related to workplace violence threats. This increased trend in threats makes it crucial for out-of-place comments or conversations to be reported to the proper managers.

“We need to assume a person is being serious until we can prove that they’re not,” he stressed. “We’re not going to be perfect at this, but we need to raise awareness and your employees need to be aware.”

A company should make sure its employees are mentally prepared and aware of active shoot situations through a workplace violence program. If an active shooter is encountered, workers or managers need to be prepared to talk to the person and stall them until help arrives.

When a shooter encounters equal or great force, they usually will not continue. This is when they either commit suicide or are stopped by law enforcement.

About 45 percent of active shooters commit suicide, 45 percent are tackled by a victim and the rest are stopped by officers on scene, Moseman said. 

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