A Science for Everyone, Community, Demography

Statistically Remote Doesn’t Mean Impossible

My post-Uvalde thoughts move toward hardening our own little school.  School shootings are always statistically unlikely.  The timeline at Uvalde shows that at 11:27, a teacher props the door open. It remains open for 6 minutes before the crazy little bastard enters the school.  He doesn’t close it – the door remains open and is the access point for police.  A safety protocol broke down.  The crazy little bastard had a six-minute window of opportunity.  Twenty-one people died and 17 more were wounded.  Six minutes.

In demography, our phrase is “Malthus only has to be right once.”  I listened to a Fed describing terrorist attacks  – “They have to get lucky once.  We have to get it right every day.”  The exercise showed how hard that was.  A teacher, secure in the misbelief that a statistically unlikely event wouldn’t happen, propped a door open.  For 6 minutes.  The crazy got in.  The statistically unlikely event happened.  We play poker hoping for statistically unlikely events to occur. 

It’s easy to look at the police failures – but the initial failure was the teacher who wedged the door open . . . secure in the belief that there was no risk in violating that simple safety protocol.  Staying alert, maintaining security against something that does not occur, day after day, is difficult. 

I can think of many situations where a teacher wouldn’t want to keep unlocking the door.  It’s Spring – the time when contracts are, or are not renewed.  We’ve had that this year at Trego – and seen a bit of hostility over it.  It gives me a perspective that, in Uvalde, the shooter gained access not through police failure, but through a teacher’s carelessness.  I can understand both carelessness and resentment.

I have forgotten the name of the teacher who left his female engineering students to be killed at the Montreal Polytechnique Massacre.  I hope he came to some sort of grips with his failure – I know I could not have accepted that decision had it been mine.  Perhaps the Uvalde teacher who spent 20 lives for easier access to the door can come to grips with that conduct.  I would hate to have to rationalize it had it been my blunder.

It is difficult to stay constantly on the alert for the statistically unlikely occurrence.  Years of boredom are eventually interrupted by a few minutes of stark terror.  Uvalde’s police, like Parkland’s, made poor choices – but the timeline shows that a teacher who propped the door open had the best opportunity to eliminate the shooter’s opportunity.  Was it just casual carelessness?  Was it carelessness coupled with resentment?  I do not know – but I have read the pricetag, and it was too high.


Did I Prevent a School Shooting?

It’s been years.  I really don’t know if I prevented a school shooting or not.  A guy walked into the school and I could see the print of his snubby – so I walked up close, smiled an engaging smile, and asked, “What are you packing there?”  His answer was “I didn’t come here to see you.”  When someone is wandering into your college with a sneaky little gun, that’s probably the most reassuring answer you can get.

My answer was to bring him into my office, pour a cup of coffee, and reply with, “Now, tell me what’s up.”  I think he really did come in to see me – the tale was a bit unusual.  His wife, a student, had been into an amateur attempt at sex conversion therapy with another student, “a cute young gay man.”  It had worked to the extent that she was pregnant – and the guy with the sneaky little gun had gone through a vasectomy on his first marriage.  I think he mostly wanted to be able to talk to someone – so I listened, unloaded his Brazilian made revolver, stashed the cartridges, listened some more, and, after a half-hour or so, returned his revolver and sent him home with an empty cylinder.  I may have prevented a school shooting – but probably not.  I think it was just a case of an overpowering problem and a need to find an audience who took him seriously.  To this day, I don’t remember where I stashed the cartridges – but I’m willing to bet someone was really surprised to find them when I moved on.  I know I didn’t send the shells back home with his wife.

My experience was with one man, emotionally charged, who wanted to be talked out of it, who really timed things so he could be defused.  We had no school shooting.  We had no police called.  I suspect that, even so, I’ve been closer to school violence with this one incident than most of the folks who are willing to tell us exactly what needs to be done.

I don’t have the answers.  I developed a personal answer in 1989, when I read of the Montreal Polytechnique Massacre

“On 6 December 1989, a man entered a mechanical engineering classroom at Montreal’s École Polytechnique armed with a semi-automatic weapon. After separating the women from the men, he opened fire on the women while screaming, “You are all feminists.” Fourteen young women were murdered, and 13 other people were wounded. The shooter then turned the gun on himself. In his suicide note, he blamed feminists for ruining his life. The note contained a list of 19 “radical feminists” who he said would have been killed had he not run out of time.” 

My personal answer was simple enough: I will not leave my students. 

There was always a secure feeling in a class where I had a Marine enrolled – probably a bit more than sailors or army.  That was a security that elementary and secondary teachers never will have – that if worse came to worst in the classroom, I had reliable backup.  I don’t believe that a teacher exists who hasn’t looked at the world, and already determined what he or she will do if Hell comes through the classroom door. 

I’ve read of Sandy Hook – I have no doubt that Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach knew what they moved toward, and that their decisions were made long before Hell entered their school.  The wonderful thing is that such women lived – and that their actions and warnings protected others.  The sadness is that the only items they possessed to protect their students were their bodies.

Perhaps I do have a small suggestion – I believe that most teachers have thought about what they will have to do if their classroom is invaded.  Perhaps if every police officer spends a bit of time thinking about how to respond, when Hell enters the classroom they might be a bit more effective.