Contrary to conventional wisdom, the author shows that gun possession often prods aggrieved, mentally unstable individuals to go on shooting sprees; these attacks largely occur in places where guns are not prohibited by law; and sensible gun-control measures like the federal Assault Weapons Ban—which helped drastically reduce rampage violence when it was in effect—are instrumental to keeping Americans safe from mass shootings in the future.
To stem gun massacres, the author proposes several original policy prescriptions, ranging from the enactment of sensible firearm safety reforms to an overhaul of how the justice system investigates potential active-shooter threats and prosecutes violent crimes. Calling attention to the growing problem of mass shootings, Rampage Nation demonstrates that this unique form of gun violence is more than just a criminal justice offense or public health scourge. It is a threat to American security.
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Securing America From Mass Shootings
By Louis Klarevas
Prometheus BooksCopyright © 2016 Louis Klarevas
All rights reserved.
America is a rampage nation, where mass shootings now pose the greatest credible threat to public safety, surpassing even terrorism. On December 14, 2012, we were reminded of this in the most heart-wrenching manner. That morning in Newtown, Connecticut, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza went on a shooting spree that claimed the lives of twenty-seven innocent people — twenty of them young children between the ages of six and seven. Like many gun massacres, it was premeditated and it began at home.
The night before, Nancy Lanza, mother of Adam Lanza, returned from New Hampshire, where she had been on a four-day escape from her life as the full-time caretaker of her emotionally volatile son. After slipping into her pajamas, she plopped into bed and drifted off to sleep. Maybe she should've seen the writing on the wall: that her child had a predisposition for violence and that her life was in jeopardy. But she didn't. She never saw her son's rampage coming. It was this false sense of security that allowed him unfettered access to her firearms.
Grabbing a .22-caliber rifle, Adam Lanza crept up on his mother shortly after 8:00 a.m. as she was still fast asleep in her bed. Without disturbing her from her slumber, he aimed the barrel directly at her face and pulled the trigger four times, all head shots. According to Adam's estranged father, Peter, each bullet likely represented a member of their broken nuclear family: Adam, Nancy, Peter, and brother Ryan — a trait of many gun rampages, employing violence in a symbolic fashion.
* * *
With the task of killing his mother behind him, Adam Lanza geared up for slaughter: four firearms, twenty-four magazines (twenty-two of them extended-capacity magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds), and nearly 530 rounds of ammunition. Dressed almost entirely in black but for an olive-green vest worn to hold magazines, and armed with more firepower than an American soldier on combat foot patrol, he jumped into his mother's Honda Civic for the ten-minute drive to Sandy Hook Elementary School. He did little to avoid drawing attention to himself, pulling right up to the main entrance of the school and blocking the fire lane.
After Lanza readied his arsenal, he approached the school's front doors, only to find them locked. To his right was a video call box that dialed the main office. Lanza must have known he wouldn't get buzzed in, so he improvised another form of entry. Moving to his right, he aimed his assault rifle at the plate glass and popped off eight rounds. The glass was no match for his 5.56mm bullets. With the window shattered, Lanza walked right through the gaping oval-shaped hole and into the lobby. He was in with practically zero resistance.
Sandy Hook Elementary School was rectangular in shape, opening to an interior courtyard in the middle. As Lanza navigated around the mass-produced furniture in the lobby that was typical of a hospital waiting room, clumsily knocking over a potted plant, he came upon two hallways. Straight ahead was the western corridor that led toward the gym, and to his left was the northern corridor that led toward the main office. His decision about which way to head was solidified a few seconds later when three staff members emerged in the northern corridor.
Two doors down from the main office, in Room 9, Principal Dawn Hochsprung was chairing a meeting involving six other staff members and a parent. The meeting was interrupted by what many described as the sound of loud pipe-banging. Hochsprung stood up to investigate. As she reached for the door, she admonished the rest of the meeting participants to remain in the conference room. School psychologist Mary Sherlach was already on Hochsprung's heels, though. The two women exited, and head teacher Natalie Hammond decided to follow them out. It would be a fateful, split-second decision.
At the far end of the northern corridor, in Room 1, kindergarten teacher Deborah Pisani also heard the strange noise and decided to step out into the hallway to see what was happening.
Barbara Halstead was managing the main office by herself that morning. When she heard the sound of the lobby window being shot out, she looked up to see Lanza holding his assault rifle at shoulder height, aiming down the northern corridor. Unbeknownst to Halstead, Lanza had Hochsprung, Sherlach, and Hammond in his sights. He opened fire, spraying the hallway with seventeen shots. All three went down in an instant. As soon as Halstead saw Lanza pull the trigger, she dropped to the floor and yelled, "Sally!" Hearing the panic-stricken voice, school nurse Sally Cox looked over from the adjoining infirmary to see Halstead hiding underneath her work station. Cox followed Halstead's cue and hit the deck. A moment later, Lanza walked into the main office, hunting for more people to shoot.
In Room 1, Deborah Pisani's colleague heard "Oh my God!" as she looked toward the main classroom door just in time to see "black pieces of things hitting the wall." Pisani had managed to shut the door behind her and alert her colleagues that "someone is in the building." It registered immediately: active shooter. Instantly, the kindergarten class went into lockdown mode and the children were rushed into a back corner, where they were instructed to lay flat on the carpet, shielded behind a bookcase. As Pisani was crossing the classroom, she noticed that her left foot felt "squishy." When she looked down and saw blood on her shoe, she suddenly knew why something was off with her step. She had been shot.
Not far from the main office, Hochsprung and Sherlach lay dying. Hammond, who was fifteen feet behind them, was also down — playing dead. When Lanza entered the main office, it was the break Hammond needed. Unable to stand as a result of two separate gunshot wounds to her left arm and left foot, she crawled back to the conference room. Extending her right arm and opening the door, she dragged herself back into the room.
"I've been shot twice," Hammond cried out as she closed the conference room door, holding it tightly shut with her uninjured arm. The participants of the meeting had already sheltered in place, scampering for cover when a bullet ripped through the open, solid-wood door that Hammond had exited through moments earlier. Upon seeing Hammond, one of her colleagues grabbed the conference room telephone to call 911. Instead of dialing authorities, she fumbled with the keypad, tripping the school-wide "all-call" feature, which started broadcasting the commotion to every classroom in the building. It allowed every child in the school to eavesdrop on the horror, but it also alerted every teacher that something was terribly wrong at Sandy Hook and that they needed to go into lockdown immediately.
Back in the main office, Lanza approached Halstead's work station, where he hovered briefly before continuing on to the nurse's office. Through a tiny hole in the back of her desk, Cox could see Lanza's legs. He stood facing her desk for approximately five seconds, before turning around and leaving. Halstead, still under her desk and trying desperately to avoid making even the slightest sound, heard Lanza's footsteps approaching. This time he didn't stop. Seconds later, he had exited. Scurrying under their desks was a decision that saved their lives.
Although we can't be exactly sure what Lanza did next, most likely he walked out of the main office, turned right, and came upon Room 12, which housed Kaitlin Roig's first-grade class. When Roig heard the initial sounds of Lanza shooting out the adjacent main-entrance glass, her hypervigilance kicked in. She turned the lights off and began ushering everyone in her room into the tiny bathroom located in the corner of her classroom. Cramming fifteen children into a bathroom that is only sixteen square feet is no easy feat. It took some quick maneuvering — perching one child on the toilet-paper dispenser, five more on the toilet, two behind the bathroom door. Roig pulled it off, though. She got everyone in and locked the door — all in under sixty seconds. That was the easy part. Next, she had to keep her pupils quiet. She explained, "There are bad guys out there now. We need to wait for the good guys." Most children remained calm, and the few that started to fret were met with calls from Roig to show their smiles. Roig did her best to reassure her kids that everything is "going to be okay," telling them, "I need you to know that I love you all very much." Following Roig's direction, the students kept their cool. One student even offered to guide them to safety, telling Roig, "I know karate. It's okay. I'll lead the way out."
Lanza likely approached the door to Roig's classroom to look through the porthole window, only to find it covered with construction paper. By sheer luck, Roig had forgotten to take down the paper from a previous lockdown drill. It's not known if Lanza opened the door to peek inside. If he did, he found an empty, dark, and quiet room. Regardless, he moved on to adjacent Room 10 — Victoria Soto's first-grade classroom.
* * *
The first call to 911 came in at 9:35. Dispatcher Robert Nute answered. "Newtown 911. What's the location of your emergency?"
"Sandy Hook School. I think there's somebody shooting in here, in Sandy Hook School." The panicked caller was Barbara Halstead.
For emergency-service operators in peaceful Newtown, the report of a shooting was out of the ordinary. Caught a bit off guard by the nature of the call, Nute pressed for some sort of confirmation. "Okay, what makes you think that?"
"Because somebody's got a gun. I got a glimpse of somebody running down the hallway," Halstead replied, her voice shaking. "They're still running. They're still shooting." As she made a plea for help — "Sandy Hook School, please!" — the sound of gunfire filled the background, Lanza's semiautomatic rifle firing three rounds per second. Right before she hung up, Halstead let out one last, desperate utterance of fright: "Ooohhh!"
* * *
The shots heard during Halstead's call were most likely the sounds of Lanza assaulting Victoria Soto's first-grade class. The teacher had just finishing shepherding her students away from the main door and was standing near the windows when Lanza burst into the classroom. It was an eerie moment, as no one spoke. Lanza just stood in the room, pointing his AR-15 at the first-graders in an almost eeny-meeny-miny-moe fashion. He had a few rounds still left in his magazine and, after staring down the children, he turned toward Soto and opened fire. The twenty-seven-year-old teacher never stood a chance. She was cut down instantly as bullets riddled her body and shattered the glass behind her — with several fragments finally coming to rest in vehicles parked in the outside lot.
No sooner had Lanza started shooting, than he was out of ammunition, which forced him to switch magazines. Having duct-taped two thirty-cartridge magazines together in a tactical configuration, Lanza needed only a few seconds to flip the magazines and reload.
Six-year-old Jesse Lewis knew what was coming. In an act of heroism beyond his years, he yelled "Run!" urging his classmates to make a break for it. Unfortunately, Jesse's bravery also turned him into an instant target. Rearmed, Lanza pointed his rifle at the charging little boy and squeezed off a single round right to Jesse's head, killing him instantly. Lanza then tried to shoot some of the others stampeding toward the door. He managed to kill one more child attempting to get away.
Some of the fleeing students physically bumped Lanza aside as they passed him; one even stumbled near the door. But the children made it into the hallway, where they darted past the two dead women who were on the ground, and out the front entrance. Before Lanza could shift his body to block their exit, they were gone. Those few precious seconds that Lanza needed to swap out magazines had proved enough.
Heeding Jesse's advice, nine students got away, following a very familiar escape path — the fire-evacuation route that had been seared into their memories several times earlier in the school year. The fire drill wasn't designed for an active-shooter scenario, but it saved the first-graders' lives nonetheless.
Lanza turned to those left in the room and continued his offensive. On the floor behind some desks, he spotted special-education teacher Anne Marie Murphy, holding six-year-old Dylan Hockley in her arms. Kaitlin Roig, who was hiding in the adjacent room, heard someone in Victoria Soto's classroom imploring Lanza to spare their lives: "Oh please no! Please no!" It was likely Murphy. The pleas did little to curb the ruthlessness of Lanza, who emptied the second magazine into those remaining in the classroom, before leaving in search of his next victims.
Two rooms down from Victoria Soto's classroom, where Lanza hadjust killed two adults and five children, special-education teachers Laura Esposito and Kerri Sommer and one of their students were waiting for four other students to arrive before beginning the day's lesson plan. Hearing the shooting, the two teachers rushed the little girl into the bathroom and locked the door. While in hiding, they heard bursts of gunfire mixed with the screams of children. After a pause, the sounds of horror were repeated, this time in Room 8 — the classroom adjacent to their room.
When the rampage began, Amy Taylor, a second-grade teacher in Room 5, ran to her classroom door to shut it. Looking through the porthole window, she locked eyes with substitute teacher Lauren Rousseau, directly across the hallway in Room 8. Taylor remembers the look of fear on Rousseau's face. Terrified and perhaps unfamiliar with the full lockdown repertoire, Rousseau never covered her door window. With the help of special-education teacher Rachel D'Avino, Rousseau gathered her students near the bathroom. Both women tried frantically to get all sixteen children into the tiny space, but unlike Kaitlin Roig, Rousseau and D'Avino struggled. A police report filed several days after the tragedy captured the chaos this way:
The children that were sitting on the floor of the bathroom were packed in like sardines.... As the pile got higher it appeared that there was a mad scramble to get into the bathroom, with people stepping on one another and climbing on top of each other. The teachers would not have been able to get into the room even if they wanted to.
To further complicate matters, the door, which swung inward, couldn't be shut. Everyone was exposed, and the teachers knew it. Unfortunately, before the children could be repositioned, Lanza appeared.
With a fresh extended-capacity magazine loaded into his semiautomatic rifle, Lanza stormed into Room 8. The two teachers were caught in the act of hiding their first-graders in the corner lavatory. One of the teachers tried to stand in the way and shield her vulnerable students from harm. It was a valiant effort, but her body afforded little protection against Lanza's assault weapon.
When the disturbed gunman paused mid-shooting to switch magazines, the people hiding in Room 6 suddenly heard the cries of the first-graders who, on the other side of the thin wall that separated the adjacent classrooms, had survived the first thirty-round barrage. "I don't want to be here!" called out one child.
"Well, you're here!" Lanza retorted.
"Help me!" pleaded another.
"Shut the fuck up!" Lanza yelled back, before continuing his onslaught.
With his execution of the children complete, Lanza turned his sights to the second teacher, who was standingjust off to the side of the bathroom. He was livid, perhaps from the teacher's attempt to hide the children. Calling her an "asshole," he demanded that she examine the carnage. "Come over here! Look at them!" Petrified by fear, she couldn't move. Lanza inserted a new magazine and shouted "Look at me!" just prior to unleashing his fury on her. She was killed instantly.
The massacre in Room 8 was over. Unbeknownst to Lanza, one little girl at the bottom of the pile of students in the bathroom had miraculously survived, unscathed. But the others would not be so lucky.
Armed with an AR-15 and numerous thirty-round magazines, it had only taken Lanza one minute to take the lives of seventeen victims — eighty bullets in a single minute!
* * *
The first report of actual casualties came at 9:38 when Deborah Pisani phoned 911 and informed authorities that she had been shot. "I'm bleeding. My foot's bleeding." As she was about to provide a callback number, the gunfire resumed. "Oh gosh, I still hear him shooting." Lanza was firing off one to two rounds per second in the background.
Less than a minute after Pisani's initial call to 911, the parent trapped in the conference room also made contact with a different dispatcher at a Connecticut State Police call center. "Sandy Hook School. Oh my God.... I have five adults and one's been shot twice. This is crazy."
For 911 operator Karen LaPrade, the experience must have bordered on the bizarre. Just moments before receiving the call from Sandy Hook, LaPrade was chatting away with a retired state trooper who was seeking her help in locating information on an accident investigation. As if jinxing herself, she complained about "country dispatchers that are not accustomed to how busy it is" where she was stationed. She had no idea how true her statement was about to ring.
Excerpted from Rampage Nation by Louis Klarevas. Copyright © 2016 Louis Klarevas. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 Problem
Chapter 1 Sandy Hook 17
Chapter 2 The Beginning of Wisdom 31
Chapter 3 A Growing Threat 49
Part 2 Probe
Chapter 4 Unstable, Angry, Armed Men 89
Chapter 5 No Place Is Safe 131
Chapter 6 Guns Kill, Some More Than Others 183
Part 3 Prescription
Chapter 7 Breaking the Trinity 229
Chapter 8 The Bad Man's Awe 249
Chapter 9 The New Normal 267
Appendix: A Theoretical Profile of Seung Hui Gho: From the Perspective of a Forensic Behavioral Scientist Roger L. Depue, PhD 271