It’s been 12 hours since my first active-shooter drill. My muscles feel sore and shaken; I feel exhausted, even a bit faint (it was also another unusually hot day), but I still feel pumped with adrenaline. It was the first of its kind, simultaneous drills held nationwide at local health-care centers and campuses. Though this caliber of drill was not routine for anyone, really, my role was not normal for anyone but a small handful of people: I was the shooter.
My dear friend who works at Ventura College had been very busy and contemplative for months over pulling together this particular active-shooter training. There had been other drills in the past but this effort was massive. It’s no easy task to coordinate such an event, given the number of people who need to be trained and the level of understanding we really have when it comes to the behavior of mass shooters and how we should react. Plus, my friend wanted to change the status quo: She had two women be the shooters, one a beloved staff nurse, and the other, a mystery: tall, bandana over mouth and nose, baseball cap, long black shirt and sneakers.
For weeks I had been planning my entrance. First thought, the scene where Honey Bunny robs the diner with her boyfriend in Pulp Fiction. I had “f***ing pricks” down pat. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that in that sort of situation, where a shooter has lost connection with humanity, the culprit has such little hope or joy left to be able to even consider such a horrendous event that the only way for me to plan this and be taken seriously was just to be real. And so, what would I do? Plan an escape: run, hide, run. The solution: a hostage. Surviving gunfire: bullet proof shield (cardboard), which I would plant in the inconspicuous room before anyone showed up.
Finally the day arrived and as I was stowed away in a room in front of the audience, I heard both my female friend and a male police officer telling the class about what to do in case of an active shooter. I heard a lot of talking, about where to grab the shooter (limbs), to throw things at the shooter, but I was also losing the focus needed to hear clearly as it was almost my turn to take over the meeting. There was another twist as well: My friend convinced the audience that there would only be one shooter, who, a few minutes before my entrance, was tackled to the ground despite the fact that her attackers were obviously hit by her water gun. (There were no explicit instructions on what being hit with water meant, but it should have been obvious that this was not a game.) And so after the chaos of subduing the first shooter subsided, it was go time.
I ran into the room and shot a stream of water that hit the front right row of the audience as I came out from the left. I yelled, “Don’t move,” “Get back” and, “I’m taking a hostage.” A woman then threw a water bottle at me. That surprised me and angered me and I started to feel that things were getting out of control. With my hostage in range, audience members attacked me anyway, despite several of them being wet from my first spray, and I became even angrier. I used my water gun to attack my hostage and the people attacking me. And the fact was, even in this pretend situation, I felt that I had done enough damage with my first round of spray that I was ready to run. Being physically attacked by those who felt the need to be heroes, however, left most of those around me with water on their faces.
Because I was subdued so quickly by those who had been hit by my water gun (and should have been pretend severely injured people), I was really unnerved. I was even more shaken, realizing that because I was physically attacked, I went beyond simple plans and became haphazardly “violent,” spraying water at everyone. What I hadn’t planned for was that there was little flight response when it mattered most but a lot of fight response when my intended mission was over, and that led to worse consequences.
It’s clear that these drills are seriously important during an era when the worry is not whether another mass shooting will happen but, rather, when. But from what I had learned the week before, being the prey, when the predator has guns and I only have arms and maybe a water bottle, being a hero may not be the best way to handle such a volatile situation.