By James P. Gaffney.

The Fort Hood shooting and the Franklin Regional Senior High School multiple stabbing incidents are two situations, which are as different as they are alike. The first incident involved a soldier armed with a firearm killing three people and wounding 16, before committing suicide.

A week later, a student, 16, armed with two kitchen knives stabbed 21 students, one security guard, and caused the injury of 2 others. Once apprehended, the youth told the arresting officer he wanted to die. Each developed his killing plan and each also had a state of mind justifying the slaughter of innocent people.

Each incident employed a separate methodology, a gun vs. two knives.  Since such individuals can use knives and IEDs to complete their evil task, perhaps they should be called “Active Killers.”  The soldier and the student both had a common goal of killing as many people as possible.

Policing has been focused on combatting such incidents with updated training, improved tactics, quicker response time, coordination of effort, and mutual aid. Schools, workplaces, and public facilities are conducting lockdown drills. I commend this, but there is more to do. The law enforcement community should take steps to intercede before people are murdered.

The community can provide law enforcement with the opportunity to terminate such incidents before they begin. The goal of this protocol is to overcome an AS before the loss of life or injury.  Preventing “Active Shooter” or “Active Killer” incidents can only happen when effective communication is established between the community and the police.

Take a moment to consider how much is learned about an Active Shooter after a massacre. This approach needs to be reversed to prevent an ASI. The basic tenant of policing is to protect and serve. This can be achieved in a proactive manner by intervention and apprehension.

When law enforcement responds to an ASI, people are being killed.  The purpose of response is to reestablish order.  The primary focus should be focused on maintaining rather than reestablishing order.

Killing others is an unconscionable act to everyone, except the killer. Perhaps the killer was reasonable at one time. However, for many reasons, a person will change. This person blames others for their internal turmoil and undergoes a series of actions, which culminate in killing.

The Five Stages of the Active Shooter/Active Killer are:

  1. Fantasy Stage
  2. Planning Stage
  3. Preparation Stage
  4. Approach Stage
  5. Implementation Stage

A potential Active Killer will first think and fantasize about what he intends to do.  He will then prepare and plan to meet this goal, frequently writing out a manifesto or posting one on line.  Once the Active Shooter/Active Killer does that, he goes on to is prepared to carry out his plan the target site is approached and he immediately begins to kill. Safe intervention is often possible during the Fantasy, Planning, or Preparation Stages. Once the potential Active Killer reaches the Approach and Implementation Stage he is prepared to kill and extremely dangerous.  Police are now limited to response.

The Active Killer doesn’t understand facts as the rest of us do.  An Active Killer is focused on his misguided perception of the facts based on prior experiences with others. The Active Killer’s perception of continuous negativity is how he grows, in time, to depend only on himself.  He believes that there is no relief for his dilemma.  Part of an Active Killer’s personae can include depression, displaced anger, suicidal tendencies, and mental illness.

Authorities learned that a 34-year-old Fort Hood Iraq war veteran purchased a .45 firearm on March 1st even though he had a history of depression, anxiety, and was under evaluation for post-traumatic stress disorder. This date is important because the firearm was in this soldier’s possession for over a month prior to the ASI. The gun was never registered with the military. A window of opportunity to intervene existed from March 1st to April 1st if the military had been notified about this soldier’s gun possession.

The motive for the Franklin Regional Senior High School stabbing remains under investigation.  A student reported that mean Facebook comments were posted the night before the stabbing. The comments were directed at the student who attacked the next day. A screen shot was taken of the message, which was reported to the police.  The post was deleted after the stabbing incident.   The youth, dressed in black, left his home armed with two kitchen knives. If ongoing bullying is established, then the next question is who posted the comments on Facebook?

Law enforcement has established some common factors with Active Killers.  One common trait is that they often do not have a criminal background. This is important since such incidents are an intentional mass murder. The killer creates carnage.  Such incidents occur for different reasons, but quite often displaced anger emerges, as may be the case with the Fort Hood and the Franklin Regional Senior High School incidents.

In 1986, I conducted a Victim-Offender Overlap study.  I interviewed a total of 50 incarcerated males between 17- 21. During an exit interview, I asked each why he developed a life of criminality. Each young man indicated that they were tired of being the victim. From afar does it appear the soldier and student were also tired of their real and/or perceived victimization?

The Proactive approach is an opposite, yet complimentary, approach to the First Responder concept in addressing a mass killing incident. The Proactive approach requires community members to assume the role of First Reporters.  Patrol officers are considered the eyes and ears of the department. This is correct when dealing with traditional forms of criminality. A potential Active Killer goes through changes as he is planning and readying to initiate his plan of attack. These changes are visible, verbal and/or written cues: warning signs. The warning signs lead to a change of conduct.

People who interact with potential Active Killers have insight into this person’s changed behavior that the police do not have. This is a critical time. We now live in a world where the public – family members, neighbors, co-workers, friends, school and medical personnel, must be the eyes and ears of the department to help identify a potential Active Killer.

Law enforcement must use community-policing techniques to open lines of communication.  Social media is an extremely low cost method of disseminating information and receiving tips from the public. LEOs can outreach to community and neighborhood groups.  Facebook, Twitter, and other social websites can lead to tips being provided in a manner, which feels safe for callers. The 411 tips service permits citizens to provide information anonymously.

Some say that a Proactive approach to overcome an Active Killer does not exist.  Please review the information below of Active Shooter incidents, which were prevented because of tips from the public.

On July 27, 2012, authorities Prince George and Anne Arundel Counties in Maryland foiled what they believe would have been a work place mass shooting by a disgruntled employee.  Officials at the potential shooter’s work place tipped police regarding unusual behavior.  A search which followed turned up more than 20 guns, including assault rifles and handguns, and thousands of rounds of ammunition. The man was taken into custody in Crofton, Maryland and held for a psychiatric evaluation with charges pending.

On November 16, 2012 police in Bolivar Missouri arrested a man, 20, who was prepared to massacre innocent citizens in a copycat incident to the Aurora massacre. However, no incident in Bolivar ever occurred.

The Bolivar Police were notified by a woman that her son had purchased weapons. She feared he was planning to hurt people. Police initiated an investigation of him, leading to his arrest. Bolivar Police Chief Steve Hamilton advised Associated Press reporters, “Thankfully we had a responsible family member or we might have had a different outcome.”

On December 14, 2012, police arrested a high school student in Bartlesville, Oklahoma as he planned a school shooting. This student was reading online about Columbine, weapons, and how to build pipe bombs.  He also tried to recruit other students to help him carry out his plan. Police arrested him after a student alerted school staff. This incident occurred a few hours before the Sandy Hook shooting which claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 adults.

The topic of Active Killers/Active Killers is complex. Law Enforcement must take steps to intervene and prevent such incidents, while also executing response tactics in overcoming Active Killer situations.

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Jim Gaffney, MPA is Law Enforcement Today’s risk management /police administration contributor. He has served with a metro-New York police department for over 30 years in varying capacities, culminating with Executive Officer and PIO. He is a member of (ILEETA), (IACP), and the nationally recognized FBI- LEEDA. Jim is a Certified Force Science Analyst. He mentors law enforcement’s next generation as an adjunct criminal justice professor in the New York City area. Jim brings the street into the classroom to prepare students today for their roles as police officers tomorrow.  He is CEO of Bright Line Consulting and can be reached via