Sandy Hook Report: An armed staff member might have halted Lanza's attack

Connecticut released the Sandy Hook summary report yesterday (PDF). It contained no significant surprises, but did include one eye-opening detail.

The report confirms that Lanza’s mother was murdered with 4 shots from a Savage Mark II .22LR rifle in their home. It confirmed that Adam Lanza carried out his attack exclusively with a Bushmaster XM15-ES2 carbine, and that his took his life with a single shot from a Glock 20 10mm pistol, and that the Sig P226 9mm pistol found with his body was never fired at all.

It also confirmed that Lanza chose to leave a Saiga 12-gauge shotgun in his car, which was later recovered by police.

Lanza 12-gauge Saiga shotgun, with two magazines, recovered in the trunk of his car.
Lanza 12-gauge Saiga shotgun, with two magazines, in the trunk of his car.

[For those insistent that something else/more/dramatically different occurred, I would direct them to author and gun expert Michael Z. Williamson’s treatment of those theories.]

A very interesting detail revealed in the report is the “what might have been” if  some faculty and staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary school had been trained and equipped with firearms, particularly one staff member.

It seems probable that Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach and two other staff members injured in the very beginning of the assault did not recognize Lanza’s breaching of the school as an armed assault until it was too late for them to have had any effect on the outcome, even if they had been carrying concealed firearms.

Another school staffer, however, quickly recognized the sound and smell of gunfire, as noted in the final paragraph before the “Response” section of the document begins.

One staff member heard a loud crashing noise and ran toward the front lobby. As the staff  member got closer, bullet holes could be seen and gun powder smelled. Realizing what was going on, the staff member immediately called 911, turned and went back down the hall from where the staff member had come. During the incident, while staying on the line with the 911 operator, this staff member sent other staff to their rooms or had them stay in their rooms and this staff member went about locking doors. The staff member remained in the hallway on the telephone with the 911 operator until the police arrived.

Plate glass window at entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary. Lanza's entry point.
Plate glass window at entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary. Lanza’s entry point.

The” loud crashing noise” was Lanza shooting/breaking his way in through the school’s plain plate-glass window at the very beginning of the attack. Close enough to smell gunpowder and see bullet holes, the staff member had the presence of mind not to panic. The staff member placed a 911 call, directed other staff members to their rooms, and helped direct the lockdown, all while staying in the hallway (and potentially, in the line of fire) and on the line with the 911 operator until police arrived.

This staff member was on the scene (close enough to see bullet holes and smell the burned powder), and had excellent presence of mind, putting the other staff members into their lockdown procedures, while communicating to 911. At great personal risk, the staff member stayed in the hallway, knowingly putting his or her life at risk.

This staffer was obviously brave, and I have to think that if the staff member was trained and armed with a concealed carry weapon, he or she could have closed with Adam Lanza and engaged him somewhere between the time he was leaving the main office and Lanza entered the first classroom (Room 8 or Room 10). Based upon the staffers location and the direction of Lanza’s attack, the staffer would have likely come upon Lanza from behind.


Such an engagement would have had several possible and (comparatively) very positive outcomes:

  1. Lanza might have been shot and either incapacitated or killed outright between leaving the office and engaging the students in the first classroom, saving all of the students and teachers killed.
  2. Lanza might have been shot and either incapacitated or killed while he was attacking the first classroom, saving at least some of the students and faculty in that classroom and all in the second.
  3. Wounded or simply scared, Lanza might have retreated back into the office and committed suicide there, as he did when armed police approached.

There may have been neutral outcomes:

  1. The armed staff member could have failed to engage, leading to the same outcome.
  2. The armed staffer could have engaged Lanza and perhaps hit students or faculty in crossfire (which still would have likely been fewer students than Lanza shot unopposed, as Lanza would have been engaged with/occupied by the staffer’s fire)
  3. The armed staff member could have engaged, but could have become yet another casualty, and did not otherwise alter Lanza’s attack other than delaying it a few seconds.

There are no realistic scenarios where the introduction of a trained staff member with a firearm to counter the threat could have made Lanza’s rampage more deadly.

In each possible scenario where an armed staffer engages Lanza, that is time that Lanza is distracted from his goal of killing students. Even if the staffer became a casualty relatively quickly after engaging Lanza, Lanza’s plan would have been disrupted. If more than one staff/faculty member was armed and carrying, that would have increased the resistance Lanza faced, making it even more unlikely he would have been able to kill 26 people inside the school.

Lessons

Sandy Hook was a tragedy carried out by one man, that might have been immediately impeded by both better passive and active resistance mechanisms.

Passively, schools should replace any ground-level plain plate-glass windows and doors with laminated, wire-reinforced windows and doors that would take much longer for an assailant to defeat and enter the building. In addition, classroom doors should have an interior locking mechanism. Classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary could only be locked with keys from the outside.

As a matter of active protection, the only thing that stops a bad person with a gun intent on murder is a good person with a gun intent on stopping them.