February 27, 2008

Waiting to Die

Growing a new culture of victims.

An armed man who burst into a classroom at Elizabeth City State University was role-playing in an emergency response drill, but neither the students nor assistant professor Jingbin Wang knew that.

"I was prepared to die at that moment," Wang said Tuesday.

The Friday drill, in which a mock gunman threatened panicked students in the American foreign policy class with death, prompted university officials to apologize this week to Wang and offer counseling to faculty and students.

Anthony Brown, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university was testing its response to shootings of the sort that have shaken campuses around the country. "The intent was not to frighten them but to test our system and also to test the response of the security that was on campus and the people that were notified," Brown said.

The mock assailant—a campus police officer—quickly established control over the classroom, and the students did exactly as he demanded until the drill was over and police rushed in to "subdue" the attacker.

After the ordeal, some students stated that they were prepared to jump out classroom windows. The instructor said he was "prepared to die."

And yet, even after the recent slaughters at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, none of the students reported that they were preparing to fight for survival, or that they had thoughts of actively defending themselves and their classmates.

Have we completely breed the violence of self-preservation out of this generation?

Posted by Confederate Yankee at February 27, 2008 05:35 AM


If I'd been in the room, the poor working man would've had to fend off desks, rocks, my (probably illegal) pocket knife, any sharp pencils I happened to have....

I've learned that you go down fighting, or it's not worth dying.

Shoot me with a 9mm? Assuming that you manage to hit--I'm kind of small-- that will just put me into suicide mode. I'll do all I can to kill you-- not stop you, but KILL you.

Posted by: Foxfier at February 27, 2008 06:16 AM

I'm sure there are those who are entirely pleased with such valuable information about our newer generations here in the U.S. Much easier to control, apparently. That must play well into Obama's hands, since he'll never want to appear to be heavy-handed when he hands the U.S. over to the U.N.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at February 27, 2008 07:17 AM

"Have we completely breed the violence of self-preservation out of this generation?"


Posted by: Capitalist Infidel at February 27, 2008 09:30 AM

When I was a senior in high school, I was attacked in the lunch room by a crazy with a knife. I was sure that I was going to die. At the time, I was heavy into Heinlein (this was before his "dirty old man" phase). So I decided, if I were going to die, I was going to have a bodyguard in Hell.

I attacked my attacker bare-handed. All-out berzerk. By the end of the fight I had numerous stab wounds, and a punctured lung, but it took four people to pull me off of him, and if they had waited another 30 seconds the guy would have been dead. (As it was, in the confusion of taking me to the school nurse no one thought to detain the perp, but it didn't matter. He still could not crawl, much less stand up, when the school cop arrived on the scene with a camera three minutes later. Talk about getting caught red handed -- he was soaked in my blood.)

It also turned out this guy had a long and violent history, but always got off because he had an identical twin brother. Whenever one committed a crime the other one was somewhere else, so there was always reasonable doubt. Until I broke up the cosy arrangement by violently resisting an attack.

I have taken that lesson to heart ever since. Evil must be opposed, despite the odds, because even if you do not win, may slow him down enough for someone else to win.

After Columbine, I got my three sons together and told them that story. I also told them that if they were ever confronted by a gunman in a classroom to throw something at him and shout "throw stuff at him." Keep throwing stuff because if there is enough stuff in the air he cannot aim.

If there is a table, grab the legs of the table, tip it on its side and ram the shooter with the table top. Stay to one side of the table and hope he shoots at the center of it. Once the shooter has lost his gun, kick him until he is down and keep hitting him until he is dead or unconscious. Preferrably dead, but if others make you stop after he is unconscious, but before he dies, stop.

One son is now an engineer. A second is in college, and the third is a senior in high school. I go over my advice with them again after every school shooting. I don't know what they will do, but I know what I have taught them, and I have confidence they will do their best if the situation ever faces them -- real or a drill. If it is a drill, the mock assailant might end up having a bad day. I hope so.

Posted by: Mark L at February 27, 2008 09:43 AM

Can any of you give me all the examples of students fighting back against their attacker in the good ol' days?

So I'm asking you to educate me- just give me a few examples of your or older generations fighting back against a classroom shooter. Say, pre-1980.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 09:52 AM

And I don't mean when one student is attacked by another - I mean a Columbine type situation.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 09:54 AM

rapid, what gives you the right to determine the parameters of what kind of violent attacks count, and which don't? Sorry, but you don't get to make that call, and you don't get to determine the dates, either.

I can think of several off the top of my head, but I'll see what others have before I include my examples.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 27, 2008 10:02 AM

no one but you who own this site - I'm stipulating that a Columbine situation because most people fight back in one on one violence (like the commenter above) - they kind of have to or they get even more hurt. What's more interesting is in situations like what we're talking about for the fact that individuals in groups have a much more difficult time taking an individual action because of diffusion of responsibility to the group. This is seen in a lot of social psychology experiments - the Kitty Genovese case was a big impetus to study this issue of individual action in the context of the group. And very seriously, I'd be interested to see examples of people rushing their attackers or fighting back in a classroom situation or similar. I have a feeling it's never happened all that much but could be wrong.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 10:12 AM

I asked for pre-1980 because I'm assuming that when you bemoan the new generation of milquetoasts, that there must have been a time when this was not the case, i.e., in a previous generation, and so went back to pre-1980. Who knows, maybe this precipitous decline in personal bravery occurred much later than that, say in 1988 or 1993, if so then those can count too if you like.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 10:15 AM

I don't think a test like this is such a good idea.

I returned to school as an adult learner to earn a Master's degree in 1989-1993. Because of the university location and getting out of classes around 9:30pm, I carried a concealed handgun to class and didn't really care what the school policy was. I will not be a victim if I can help it.

I have had a concealed carry permit since the early 70s. I got it a few years after I left the Army. If a "drill" like this had occurred when I was in the classroom, someone probably would have gotten hurt.

Posted by: Jim at February 27, 2008 10:37 AM

Aug 1, 1966 - The University of Texas, Austin shootings.

From Wikipedia:
Once Whitman began facing return gunfire from the authorities, he used the waterspouts on each side of the tower as gun ports, which allowed him to continue shooting largely protected from the gunfire below, which had grown to include civilians who had brought out their personal firearms to assist police. Ramiro Martinez, an officer credited with neutralizing Whitman's threat, later stated in his book that the civilian shooters should be credited, as they made it difficult for Whitman to take careful aim without being hit. Police lieutenant and sharpshooter Marion Lee reported from a small airplane that there was only one sniper firing from the parapet. The plane circled the tower trying to get a shot at Whitman, but the turbulence shook the plane too badly for him to get Whitman in his sights. As the airplane took fire, Lee asked the pilot, Jim Boutwell, to back away, but "stay close enough to offer him a target and keep him worried." The airplane, which was hit no less than thirteen times, remained on station until the end of the incident.

Civilians, with guns, damn their eyes!

Posted by: Dan Irving at February 27, 2008 10:42 AM

There really aren't many Columbine style attacks pre-1980. CSU Fullerton, maybe? Though that shooter stayed on the move and then left of his own accord after a few minutes of shooting. You're looking for a rather narrow set of circumstances that doesn't exist with any significant frequency.

United 93 and AA 63 argue against your theory, rapid.

Posted by: Pablo at February 27, 2008 10:45 AM

One wonders if the nut-case-cop considered the possibility that defense-free-zone or not, the might have been another crazy in the room that might have really hurt people, including him.

When I was a kid in the Los Angeles City School system there were things like Columbine pretty frequently--but I don't think they ever made the papers.

My parents moved to Glendale specifically so I would not have to go to John Marshall High School.

And comb the recent news reports for "Washington Irving Middle School"--it was a Junior High School when I went there, but not much else has changed, it looks like.

Posted by: Larry Sheldon at February 27, 2008 11:38 AM

Pablo, that's exactly my point. What are we comparing today's generation to when CY asks
"Have we completely breed the violence of self-preservation out of this generation?" Remember, we have probably the largest all-volunteer military of any time in our nation's history (those of the same generation as the kids in the classroom) - not exactly a bunch of cowards.

Let's face it, none of us really knows how we would act in this kind of situation. Common sense and human psychology and previous examples would argue that we would probably act pretty much like almost every other group of people in a semi-confined space who were being fired upon. We would duck and probably try to get out of the way. Calling this some kind of generational degradation is bs in my opinion. And the airplane examples don't exactly work - these are people who either fight or die in a plane crash/explosion, whereas the majority of individuals in a classroom typically survive a gunman's attack by just cowering. That, in my opinion, is why people in such situations typically cower - because they typically survive - no matter how much it displeases people like CY who think they should pull a hero move.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 01:16 PM

none of us really knows how we would act in this kind of situation.

Using past as predictor we can make a good guess.

Posted by: Purple Avenger at February 27, 2008 01:23 PM

Past behavior is the best predictor. Now, those of you who have been a student in a classroom in which an individual came in with a number of firearms and began shooting random classmates, raise your hands, and tell us what you did.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 01:29 PM

What empirical evidence do you have that those who cower in fear are the one's who survive, rapid?

There is a descriptive phrase for folks you describe: willing targets.

I can cite several examples of those who were shot at Virgina Tech were just the kind of folks you claim survive, who curled up into balls and hid under desks and did nothing as Cho methodically stood over them and fired shots into their bodies. Those that react by either escaping or attacking the shooter when cornered are more likely to survive than willing victims that simply let themselves get shot.

You wanted to know earlier about situations where people fought back against gremlins bent on campus violence.

You specifically mention "Columbine," so I'll start with a case very similar to Columbine, Luke Woodham's rampage at Pearl High School and Pearl River Junior High School in 1997... except that it didn't quite happen that way.

Woodham never made it to the junior high because Vice Principal Joel Myrick ran to his car, grabbed his personal weapon, put a .45 to Woodham's head and kept him from leaving the high school parking lot to the junior high. Woodham had already killed three and wounded seven, but because of an armed principle going after the attacker, Woodham's murder spree was cut short.

In 2002, Peter Odighizuwa has his shooting spree at the Appalachian School of Law capped by three students--two armed, one unarmed--who disarmed and subdued him.

Also in 2002, an unarmed teacher in Germany confronted Robert Steinhauser after he'd already killed 16 and wounded 10 others, pushed Steinhauser into a room, and locked him in. Steinhuaser then killed himself. He had plenty of ammunition, and the actions of the unarmed teacher, Rainer Heise, probably saved many lives.

Personally I've never been in a classroom when someone started shooting, but I did race across campus with the express intention of crashing the police perimeter and attacking a gunman by the name of Al Witherspoon that had taken hostages at ECU's Whichard Building in 1990.

I had no weapon at the time.

As fate and luck would have it, I entering the rear of the building as he was being carried in handcuffs out the front. It was probably better for everyone involved that the situation ended the way it did, but yes, I think I know how I would react to violence, as I had every intention of inflicting serious bodily harm upon him. I wasn't trying to be a hero, I was simply determined that I would not allow him to hurt others.

You call it a "hero move" from someone to defend themselves or others, but only betray the fact that you know little about such situations. It is common sense and basic animal instinct to do what you can to survive, and above average human decency to try to protect others.

You may not have that basic instinct or above average selflessness, but then, that is exactly my question from the beginning.

Have we completely breed the violence of self-preservation out of this generation? In many cases, it appears that the obvious answer is yes.

Posted by: Confederate Yankee at February 27, 2008 02:15 PM

Oh good lord, get off your high-horse. You and I are so far exactly alike, neither has subdued a classroom shooter, or any shooter for that matter, by hurling laptops, sharpened pencils, notebooks, or bookbags, or in any other way. You imagine yourself to do that some time in the future if called upon because you consider yourself unselfish but of course this has never been tested: once, you ran across a campus with the intention of doing serious bodily harm to an individual but this ultimately did not happen because of intervening circumstances - for this you consider yourself to have "above average decency." I guess it's the sanctimonious quality of guys like you that really grates on me. And I think it's that certainty and unquestioning belief in one's essential righteousness that leads to a lot bigger problems. It helps to harbor a little healthy self-doubt in oneself to stay honest, to question your motivations, to check your actions. Remember, there are at least two possible motivations for your actions on campus, one is because you couldn't let this guy harm others, and two is that you wanted to say something about yourself, to be the guy who stopped the shooter - I certainly can't say which was the primary motivation for you, and wouldn't try. Ultimately, both motivations would have likely ended in your being harmed or killed. Ask any of the cops there that day whether they wished you got there a little earlier - I'll bet money on what they would say.

I should have mentioned escaping together with cowering as being the most logical response to such an event if available. But it seems like escaping was also something that you thought was a problematic response to such a situation. In any event, wouldn't the examples you cite point to the answer that we haven't bred this instinct out of people? So which is it?

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 03:37 PM

The answer to CY's original question is, I think, essentially yes with some exceptions.

A recent example of citizen bravery would be the Colorado Springs church shooting incident when the shooter was taken down by an armed parishoner who happened to be a former police officer.

Posted by: t.ferg at February 27, 2008 03:38 PM

CY is the guy who would rip the attacker's throte out with his bare hands and then proceed to drink the blood of his vanquished foe just to make a point. And he deserves great credit for this.

Rapid is the guy who curls up in a ball under his desk and hopes the bad guy goes away. The bad guy doesn't go away. He stands there and shoots at willing targets until CY rips his throte out - hopefully before the bad guy kills Rapid.

In the end lives are saved and a bad guy is put down. CY is a humble hero who tells the media he just did "what anyone else in his position would do" and Rapid, if he made it, is looking for a change of underwear.

The rest of us are furiously searching the internet to see if anyone took pictures of CY drinking bad guy blood from the gaping throte wound.

Posted by: t.ferg at February 27, 2008 03:45 PM

What ever fantasy gets you off t.ferg.

The more likely scenario is that I would be escaping through a window, THEN changing my underwear, while CY would be blogging about what he would do to the guy, should he ever get there in time, and blaming the shooting victims while generally keepin' it classy.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 03:56 PM

[[And I think it's that certainty and unquestioning belief in one's essential righteousness that leads to a lot bigger problems. ]]

The desire to stop a homocidal maniac from killing yourself and your class mates is now to be frowned at as "unquestioning belief in one's essential righteousness"?

Earth to rapid, it IS righteous to stop murder.

[[Have we completely breed the violence of self-preservation out of this generation?]]

I dont think its completly breed out (although folks like rapid are probably not going to fight back, he'd probably be too busy "questioning his motivations, to check his actions"). In defense of the younger generation I propose that the gun free zones at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University have resulted in an APPARENT wimpification of young people. If one assumes that most of the women and some of the men at these massacres were physically weaker than the shooters they probably had no choice to keep their heads down (and unfortunatly die where they cowered). If on the other hand they were armed, a great equalizer against a stronger foe, the pool of people from which a hero could arise would be bigger.

Posted by: grrrrrrrrrrrrrr at February 27, 2008 05:18 PM

"[[And I think it's that certainty and unquestioning belief in one's essential righteousness that leads to a lot bigger problems. ]]

The desire to stop a homocidal maniac from killing yourself and your class mates is now to be frowned at as "unquestioning belief in one's essential righteousness"?

Earth to rapid, it IS righteous to stop murder."

Not my point at all. Obviously it would be right to stop a murderer if you had any reasonable chance of doing so. My point was that blaming these students for not attacking an armed gunman is ridiculous, and that it's self-righteous and short-sighted to judge people in that situation, particularly if we haven't been in a similar situation and found out what we would do. My further point is that it's thinking like that that leads to unquestioned and untested beliefs in our own righteousness and superiority and that that leads to all sorts of problems down the line. I don't pretend to know what I would do and don't blame others for what they do in a split second when they're scared shitless and think they're going to die and were only minutes ago being bored by a lecture about Keynesian economics or some such. If the person doing the judging had at least been in a situation like this and could speak from experience then the criticism would be more palatable. As it stands, it sounds like all we have here are a bunch of armchair generals issuing orders and condemnations from the comfort of their cubicles.

Posted by: rapid at February 27, 2008 05:50 PM

The point and exercise of this article is to question whether or not the current generation has been essentially 'washed out' of the basic concept of aggression. According to you by, your own admittance,

"Remember, we have probably the largest all-volunteer military of any time in our nation's history (those of the same generation as the kids in the classroom) - not exactly a bunch of cowards."

From personal experience, almost universally the recruits that do go through military training have to have their aggressive side 'brought out' so to speak... the Drill Sgts I knew/know have all told me that the kids today would NEVER survive the Basic Training from their youth or mine for that matter. Combat in Iraq and Affy is the great "weeding out' of those who can and can't... truly Darwinian if you think about it...

The issue stands: "Have we completely breed the violence of self-preservation out of this generation?"

My answer: No... it just needs to be completely relearned and re-imbued.

Posted by: Big Country at February 27, 2008 06:17 PM
My point was that blaming these students for not attacking an armed gunman is ridiculous, and that it's self-righteous and short-sighted to judge people in that situation, particularly if we haven't been in a similar situation and found out what we would do.

It's not a matter of moral judgment, rapid, it's a matter of assessing the practical value of the action, the available options and the outcome. Righteousness has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: Pablo at February 28, 2008 09:05 AM

My 9 year old grandson tells me that if he is physically attacked and responds to defend himself, he is punished. That is clearly wrong and should be reversed immediately.

Like most people, I have never been in a classroom seized by an armed intruder, but I have been shooting since the 50s. In this scenario, targets outnumber shooters. Cowering makes you an stationary target, easy to hit. Move at an angle. The more people move the lower probability they will be hit. If you are afraid, and there is no harm in that, go for the door. You may distract the gunman enough for someone to get to him.

This "drill" seems to serve only one purpose - the mitigate the school's liability for lack of protection in a gun free zone. Law enforcement, unless they detect the shooter when or before the attack begins, are at a disadvantage. Their situational awareness is poor; there are already dead and wounded and probably hostages. Teachers and students do not need additional training to be victims; we should train them not to be victims.

Educators would never accept this, but a better approach would be to train the people on the scene how to deal with this situation in three ways - self defense, containment and tactical information. Teachers (or someone) should maintain and demonstrate proficiency with a handgun and be armed while in the classroom. Older students should be offered training on a voluntary basis. Everyone should also know how to contain the violence to the single classroom as the students evacuate. Students should be taught self defense, and escape & evasion, and to observe pertinent tactical details - description of the intruder, type and number of weapons, actions taken, number of people remaining.

As all of us who have been in the military know, training is essential because when you are under stress, you do not need to think. You just do what you've done before. Training has saved my life more than once.

Posted by: arch at February 28, 2008 09:24 AM

IMO this is one reason Colleges don't want CCW on campus, it would jepordize their ability to pull stunts like this that "demonstrate" the "Awfullness of Police Power and The Hegemonic State".
Especially if someone shot the pretender and ended the threat-Theater.
Universities are all about the big "What-ifs?" and marxist street-theater such as this enables them to role-play to their little heart's content while drilling pliant Students in "The Nature of Subjugation" etc..

Posted by: DirtCrashr at February 28, 2008 11:29 AM

Rapid is preemptively defending his/her own cowardice. Another bad habit of the current day.

Posted by: megapotamus at February 28, 2008 12:43 PM

To be fair, at that point the gunman was a hostage-taker, not a shooter. I don't think that I would try to rush a guy holding a weapon but who had yet to fire it, since there is at least a chance that the situation might be diffused. I know that means that at least one person has to get shot (probably, unless the shooter misses) but the "f*ck we're going to die anyway, let's do some damage" is not going to kick in until the shooting starts. Prior to that, it is still a standoff. Which brings up another point - if I had to go to college in a really bad area, I would probably carry and damn the stupid gun free zones, but this sould be a reminder that you probably should not start firing just because some idiot brandishes a gun, though obviously you would draw and order him to put it down - if he turned to aim at you, then all bets are off.

Posted by: holdfast at February 28, 2008 03:32 PM

Jim, I'm with you -- my first reaction was "Jesus CHRIST! And what if the teacher, all unknowing, reacted quickly in a violent manner? What if there were students who had thought about this, as a group, and quickly implemented their contingency plan? Good lord, what if one of the students shrieked and pissed herself and that distracted the fake bad guy long enough for the teacher to snatch up a table lamp and smash it across the back of the fake bad guy's head? Who the HELL thought this was a good idea???"

Posted by: Lissa at February 28, 2008 04:41 PM

In my college classes, I tell my students all to throw whatever they have at a shooter. I also tell them how to break the window out. If someone comes in our class, they will at least have to repair a broken window at the college.

Posted by: Suzi at February 28, 2008 04:45 PM

Three points.
Nobody who hasn't actually had a gun pointed at them knows for sure how they're going to react and even then doesn't know how they're going to react if it happens again. So everybody talking macho smack about rushing the attacker is just feeding their own ego.

The vast majority of that all volenteer force Yankee is so proud of, and that I was a part of for so many years, does NOT come from the same social and economic class as most of those pampered children in a college classroom.
Most of us grew up seeing plenty of violence and thinking about how to best survive it. Even that doesn't mean that you're going to rush a man holding a gun. Like Mark, above, I've been in a knife fight, and I didn't end up in the hospital. But I probably still wouldn't rush a guy with a gun.

That drill did nothing for the university. Both the gunman and the campus security knew that nobody was gonna get shot, so it wasn't even a fair test. And what would have happened if some young hero had rushed the gunman? Or worse yet had been carying a gun of his own? The shooter was probably holding an empty gun or one loaded with blanks, but either he or the kid and probably both, would have ended up in the hospital over a useless drill.

Posted by: iaintbacchus at February 28, 2008 05:46 PM

I would question the sanity of any rent-a-cop who participated in such stupidity.

You really aren't allowed to experiment on humans in this way. See Milgram (1961 ?) for a reason why informed consent is required for human subjects. I hope the stupid college gets sued.

As for the brainless rent-a-cop ? I hope he never tries a stunt this abysmally stupid if someone who has trained in krav maga is around.

Against 99.99% of the population, he and his badge would be safe. Against that remaining 0.01% ? That would have gotten really, really exciting. Briefly.


Posted by: 1charlie2 at March 2, 2008 07:26 PM

What a bloody stupid stunt. How did that clown know that there wasn't a responsible, armed citizen in that room, prepared to shoot him?


Posted by: John C. Randolph at March 3, 2008 03:46 AM