In the first two updates in this series (available here and here) I provided factual background information on the attack at Sandy Hook Elementary School (SHES) on December 14, 2012. As of November, 2013, SHES no longer exists, having been demolished.
In those initial articles, I used the information available in the State’s Attorney’s report to correct many misconceptions fostered by media outlets working hard to support and further some of their favorite anti-gun and social narratives. There are no easy answers to “why?” There was no evidence-earlier in life or recently–that Adam Lanza planned to do violence to anyone and none whatever of a school attack of any kind. Lanza killed his mother as she slept with one of the most common rifles in America, firing the most common, innocuous and ubiquitous cartridge in America, the .22LR. Despite the fact that gun banners would like to ban all guns, none have, thus far, suggested a ban on common, bolt-action .22 rifles.
This final article will focus on analysis of the attack and how it could have been deterred or stopped at many points during the ten-minute time line. As with virtually every school attack in American history, the police played no active role in influencing or stopping the attack. Everyone Lanza shot was either dead, dying or wounded–including Lanza himself–fully four minutes and 44 seconds before the first police officer entered the building, 14 minutes and 47 seconds after Lanza began his attack.
As I have argued not only here at SMM and PJ Media–as well as other websites–there is only one change in law and policy that can not only deter shooters, but can stop them dead in their tracks when they attack: allowing school personnel to carry concealed weapons. This change is not only inexpensive–it could conceivably cost nothing, all costs being born by those choosing to carry concealed, as is now the case everywhere–it is undeniably effective and can be implemented immediately where sufficient common sense and political will exists.
Blue: Lobby area of SHES
Red: Classroom 10 where Lanza shot himself
Green: Classroom 8
Yellow: Conference room
The Attack; Entry:
Keep in mind that all of the events in the attack took place within a few seconds more than ten minutes, ending when Lanza shot himself in the head with his Glock 20, 10mm handgun in classroom 10, and that it was Lanza who controlled every moment of the attack.
0930: Adam Lanza approached the main (north) doors of SHES, armed with a Bushmaster AR-15 carbine and a Glock 20. 10mm handgun in a drop holster. Wearing mostly black, commando wanna-be clothing, he carried hundreds of rounds of ammunition in multiple magazines. He also carried a Sig-Sauer P226 9mm pistol, but did not fire it during the attack. It was found on his body. Lanza shot all of the victims with the carbine.
Both main doors were glass, were locked, and had panic bars inside. There was a large, glass window to the right of the doors. Lanza fired eight rounds to shatter the window and entered the building through the large hole in the window. He could have accomplished the same end by shooting the doors, or by prying them open with a common crowbar, and in the same few seconds.
Entering the lobby (blue), he immediately began firing, shooting at least eleven holes in the furniture and walls of the lobby (some of these were likely due to the eight rounds he fired to gain entry). There was no one in the lobby area, so it’s unclear what Lanza was shooting at. Perhaps he was merely replaying one of the shooter video games he routinely played, though he was also very fond of a video game revolving around dancing. Perhaps he was trying to frighten people, or just enjoying the rush of shooting wildly in the school.
At this point in the attack, school secretaries in the office could see Lanza as he approached the door via the school’s sole video camera focused on that area and displayed on monitors on their desks. They controlled the electronic front door locks from their desks. The office was also partially in a direct line of sight to the front doors, so at least some of the office personnel could have seen Lanza as he approached. When Lanza entered the lobby, they could clearly see him directly as he began firing. He didn’t speak and appeared to be breathing and walking normally as he fired.
From the moment Lanza approached the front doors, he was vulnerable to return fire. Had anyone in the office been armed, they could have run to the wall in the north hallway nearest the lobby, and using that for cover, engaged Lanza before he actually entered the school, firing through the glass. Even after he entered the school, they would have had the advantage of solid cover as he had to cross the open lobby. Return fire might have sent Lanza running or dropped him within seconds. Two or more armed staff members could have provided a volume of fire that Lanza would have been very unlikely to survive. Instead, the office staff was reduced to hiding as best they could in the office.
Like most American schools, SHES had no full-time, armed school liaison officer, nor did it have–or could it likely afford–armed school security guards. School liaison officers–AKA school resource officers–are full-time police officers or deputy sheriffs assigned to a school, or schools. Their salary must come, in whole or part, from their law enforcement agency, and placing an officer in a school removes that same officer from patrol or other designated law enforcement duties. In short, they’re expensive, and therefore, not nearly as common as some might think. Elementary schools might get the occasional visit from a DARE officer, or officers working some similar public relations assignment, but virtually none have full-time designated liaison/resource officers.
Remember that elementary schools, with their commonly all-female staffs, are the schools least able to resist a violent attack, and therefore, most vulnerable.
The Attack; Assault:
0932-33: At a meeting in the conference room (yellow) Principal Dawn Hocksprung, 47, and School Psychologist Mary Sherlach, 56, heard shooting, and telling the parent and other staff members to “stay put,” Hocksprung, Sherlach and another staff member immediately left the room and were as quickly shot. Hockspring and Sherlach were immediately incapacitated–likely killed–and the staff member was shot in the leg and dropped to the floor where they were hit again, and lay still. By this point, Lanza apparently entered the office, and the wounded staff member, seeing that the hallway was empty, crawled back into the room and held the door closed with their body. Moments later, another staff member at the far east end of the north hallway stepped into the hallway and was hit in the foot. They immediately retreated into a classroom. These two wounded staff members would survive.
It was by mere chance the rest of the building would be informed. The telephone in the conference room was inadvertently turned to intercom, letting the rest of the building know what was happening.
0933-0935:39: Still hiding in the office, those staff members heard Lanza open the office door, heard his footsteps inside the office, heard his footsteps retreating and the office door closing, and renewed gunfire outside. It was fully five minutes and 39 seconds into the attack that they had the chance to call 911.
Media and other sources have suggested that Dawn Hocksprung died in a heroic and unarmed attack on Lanza. There was no recording video system in the building, so there is no visual or audio record of what happened, but the time frames and distances involved suggest that she and Mary Sherlach and the staff member first wounded were shot almost immediately after entering the hallway. It is highly unlikely that Hocksprung or Sherlach would have been close enough to Lanza to launch a physical attack in an open, narrow hallway with no cover or concealment. Lanza was obviously close enough to shoot them accurately, but far enough away to prevent any meaningful chance at coming to grips with him. They died because they were at the mercy of a madman and had no effective means to counter him. As is always the case in such crimes, time and distance were on the side of the killer.
To be sure, both showed courage in running toward the sound of gunfire, but they lacked the training and means to make a difference against an armed killer, and as a result, the outcome was preordained. The days when a school attacker could have been thought to be susceptible to negotiation have been over for decades. “I can see that you’re angry,” or “let’s talk about this,” will almost certainly provoke only a response of bullets.
Anti-gun activists commonly argue that school staff can call 911 and the police will be instantly present to stop any attack. Not at SHES; not anywhere else. The police did not so much as enter the building until 14 minutes and 47 seconds after Lanza began his attack. Connecticut State Patrolmen entered two minutes and one second later. These response times are blazingly fast for school attacks, but all of the damage Lanza was going to do was done four minutes and 44 seconds before the first officer set foot in the building.
The staff in the office lived only because Lanza decided not to more thoroughly search for them; he apparently had other priorities. Had they been armed, they could have assaulted him from cover and/or concealment as he entered, and particularly as he left the office, ending the attack at that point with only two dead and two wounded.
The Attack; Conclusion:
0935:39- 0940:03: It is not known which classroom–8 (green) or 10 (red)–Lanza entered first. He killed himself at 0940:03 (that’s when the last gunshot was heard) in classroom 10 with his 10mm pistol. Though he did fire one additional 10mm round in that classroom, it’s not known what, if anything he fired at or hit with that round.
In classroom 8, Lanza murdered Lauren Rousseau, 30, and Rachel D’Avino, 29, and 15 first grade children. Fourteen died almost immediately, and one later died at a hospital. One child somehow managed to survive unscathed and left the room after police arrived. Rousseau and D’Avino’s bodies were found close to the children, suggesting they potentially tried to shield them.
Lanza fired 80 rounds in this classroom.
In classroom 10, Victoria Soto, 27 and Ann Marie Murphy, 52, were killed as well as five 1st grade children. Four died almost immediately, and one later died at a hospital. Nine children ran out of the room at some point, and police found two additional children in the restroom. All survived, uninjured. Murphy was found with her body partially covering one child, suggesting she too tried to shield children. Soto was found dead against a wall, a set of keys nearby. Perhaps she was vainly trying to lock the door to the classroom.
In classroom 10, Lanza fired nine rounds at walls and windows, at least five of which exited windows, striking three cars in the parking lot. Lanza fired 49 rounds from the rifle and two rounds from the 10mm pistol in this classroom. One round of expended 10mm brass was found in the room, one in the nearby hallway near Lanza’s body.
As the shooting rampage progressed, nearby teachers locked themselves and their students in classroom restrooms. Teachers in more distant parts of the building hid themselves and students wherever they could. Some were able to flee the building, taking refuge in a variety of places nearby.
One staff member did perform genuine acts of heroism. Running down a nearby hallway to the sound of gunfire, they realized what was happening and retreated back from where they came, but called 911 and remained in the hallways, on the phone, feeding the dispatcher information until police arrived. During that time, they sent other staff to various rooms, told others to stay in their rooms, and locked doors.
As Lanza was carrying out multiple murders in classrooms 8 and 10 he would have been uniquely vulnerable to armed staff members who would have known exactly where he was and what he was doing. Preoccupied with killing, Lanza could have been engaged and quickly stopped.
Some might argue that armed with a carbine, Lanza had overwhelming force, but at the short distances commonly involved in school shootings–as at SHES–Lanza would have had little or no advantage over teachers armed with handguns, particularly if there were two or more opposing him. Their advantages of superior cover and concealment and knowledge of the school would have been overwhelming. Lanza’s mediocre marksmanship would have also been helpful to teachers returning fire.
Even in the hallways, armed teachers would have had the advantage of firing from substantial cover–their brick doorways–at an obvious shooter without cover or concealment in a narrow hallway. However, unarmed and with elementary aged children to try to protect, they had only two choices: hide and run.
Some consultants actually teach children–as a last resort–to throw things at a shooter and swarm him en mass. As a last resort, this isn’t a bad idea, particularly if the law and/or school policy leaves no other alternative, but it is a generally bad idea for elementary school aged students whose last ditch stand would be unlikely to result in anything but many little bodies. They’re simply too small and weak.
Unarmed as they were, the staff of SHES did the best they could against terrible odds and a preordained outcome. Some behaved heroically and did their best to defend and protect their charges. Others obviously wanted to behave heroically, but time, distance and disparity of force were against them.
The attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School was very much like most such attacks. It took relatively little time, the shooter killed himself on his own timetable, the police had no active role in stopping the killer or saving lives, and the death toll was determined solely by the whims and marksmanship of a madman.
What about mental health laws? As I’ve noted before, properly written involuntary commitment (IC) laws can be effective in some cases, if consistently and reasonably enforced. However, we have to accept the reality that such laws would not have identified or in any way hindered Adam Lanza. In fact, such laws would not have been of use in stopping virtually any of the school shooters in American history. Lanza, for example, was examined and tested by psychologists for years. More recently, he was known to be odd and socially deficient, but there were no signs of what he intended and no indications of dangerous mental illness. There is, in some states, room for improvement in IC laws and in training those that will apply them, but no one should mistake them for an ultimate solution. Absent giving the police absolutely dictatorial powers, no statute can ever allow the involuntary commitment of anyone who is merely odd, socially awkward, or behaving unconventionally, even strangely, regardless of how uncomfortable they may make others feel.
Arming willing school staff–no one should be forced to be armed against their will–is the only policy that can not only deter, but stop school attacks when and where they occur. Anything less indicates a willingness on the part of state legislators and school administrators to accept some level of injury and death when a school attack occurs.
Properly done, no one will know who is armed or where. A school district must publicize the fact that they encourage their staff to be armed and that many are. They must also publicize the fact that they will never tell anyone who is armed or where they work. This has the effect of providing deterrence for every school, even if no one in that building is armed. Anyone contemplating an attack will have to assume that people in every building are armed and able to resist them. This is the advantage of concealed carry everywhere. This factor alone will make it highly likely that any potential shooter will go where they are more likely to be able to act out their preferred scenario.
But what about female teachers? Some will surely argue that they are somehow unable to use firearms, that the mere presence of firearms will somehow inevitably make things worse. It’s hard to imagine a worse situation than that faced by those teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. When Lanza began shooting his way into the school, “worse” had arrived, and the only question was the size of the body count.
Women–even elementary school teachers–are entirely capable of great courage, calm under stress, and accurate and effective use of firearms. Millions of woman carry concealed weapons every day and use them to stop criminal assault. Some of these are doubtless teachers. In fact, it is only handguns that make the average woman more than a match for male criminals. While it can be reasonably argued that the average woman is not well suited for unarmed combat, it cannot be argued that they are incapable of accurately and effectively using firearms. They deserve, at the least, the opportunity to chose to be able to defend their lives.
Armed teachers are able, in their classrooms, in the hallway, in the cafeteria, at a bus stop, anywhere on or off school property, to protect their lives and the lives of their students. History teaches us that the police simply will not be there fast enough to save lives. Every life at SHES was lost long before police–in a small town–were able to enter the building. At SHES the highway patrol was present in an amazingly short amount of time, but still took nearly ten minutes to arrive, again, an extraordinarily short response time for highway patrolmen. They must, by chance, have been quite close and/or experienced favorable traffic conditions. Even so, it wasn’t enough.
If teachers have an unalienable right to self–defense, under what doctrine of law–to say nothing of common sense–do we justify depriving them of that right when they are most vulnerable, locked up in a school building not for a moment designed for deterrence or defense?
If students have an unalienable right to self-defense, if their parents are expected to secure that right for them, how do we justify depriving them of that right when under the temporary care of school officials? How do we justify placing them under the care of people who knowingly are willing to sacrifice some number of them to be determined by the whims and marksmanship of madmen? How do we justify putting them under the care of people who think small “gun-free school zone” signs and token security measures and drills are adequate protection against determined murderers?
If an armed killer is approaching the classroom of your child, are you truly satisfied with run and hide? Are you truly comfortable with your child being forced to defend their life in a desperate charge against an armed, homicidal madman with no weapon more deadly than a school book, ruler or cell phone?
It is cold comfort that the odds are on the side of most children. Statistically, only a tiny portion of the American public will likely ever be exposed to a school attack. I’m sure the police, school officials and parents of Newtown, Connecticut believed the odds were on their side until 0930 on 12-14-12. The odds will always fall against someone, and there is no way to know when or where. We do, however, know that it will happen to someone, and that when it does, they will be as poorly able to respond as the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School.
We fill schools with fire extinguishers knowing the odds are they will never be used. We should do no less when the means of potential death is bullets and bombs rather than fire.
Let the legacy of Sandy Hook be effective preparedness. Let every would-be school shooter from this day forward understand that an attack on any school will be very likely to result in his death before he can harm a soul, and if he is foolish enough to attack anyway, let him meet the overwhelming and effective fire of armed, trained and prepared teachers. Let it be his lifeless body in a school hallway rather than the bodies of brave but unarmed teachers–and first graders.
NOTE: Each year, I update my five-part series on the realities of school shootings and how to deter and stop them. In light of Sandy Hook, Article 5, which poses a hypothetical shooter scenario, is particularly chilling in its prophetic accuracy; it was written nearly two years before the Sandy Hook attack. Those articles may be found here: