The recent shooting at Geneva Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, CA was an absolute tragedy. One congregant was murdered and five others were injured in one of the latest active shooter attacks at a house of worship in the United States. One aspect of this incident was the active response of Dr. John Cheng, who ultimately lost his life, while protecting others facing the same danger. The analysis of numerous active attacker events reveals the mitigation of loss of life when the individuals being attacked actively respond.
During this attack Dr. Cheng and Pastor Chang sprang into action.
“When Cheng saw the man shooting elders, he jumped into the line of fire. Churchgoers said he was shot three times. As the gunman paused and fidgeted with his gun — it was unclear whether he was reloading or if the weapon jammed…”
“— Pastor Chang struck him with a chair. He pushed the gunman to the floor and asked others for help. He called out to his wife to find something so they could tie the man up. She brought him some electrical cord, and he and the congregants hogtied the suspect.”
The selfless action of Dr. Cheng jumping into the line of fire and Pastor Chang physically engaging the attacker ended the shooting and clearly saved lives.
One of the traits of many active attackers is their cowardice and selection of soft targets, where they do not expect to face resistance from anyone. Pastor Chang noted in this incident the attacker “… got scared,” and “I don’t think he expected someone to attack him.”
Through an examination of numerous incidents across the country we must recognize taking action mitigates the loss of life. What action do we take? There are variety of actions that can be taken.
We can lockdown offices and smaller rooms securing the doors and barricading them, covering the windows, and preparing to evade or defend in the event the intruder is able to access the room. Research shows lockdowns are one of the many actions effective in keeping an intruder out of an interior room. Even if an intruder makes initial entry into a room, locking the room down after their departure to another part of the building keeps the attacker from reentering the room. We recognize in a variety of incidents including the Virginia Tech and New Zealand Mosque attacks, the attackers will return to a room they have previously been in to continue the killing.
Another option we have is to evade the attacker. Depending on the totality of circumstances there are times when evasion may be the best option. Consideration must include the physical, functional needs and ages of those present. In a larger space that cannot be locked down logistically this option may be necessary.
The next option we have is to defend. Just as Dr. Cheng and Pastor Chang took defensive action ultimately leading to the stopping of the killing prior to law enforcements arrival we know unarmed civilians can successfully restrain active attackers. Another example, among many, was the assassination attempt on Congresswoman Giffords, where this present recognized the lull as the attacker needed to reload and safely and successfully held him down until law enforcement arrived. In both of these cases, defending themselves, unarmed civilians successfully stopped the killing.
While we recognize lock outs, lock downs, evasion, and defending are all options when an active attack is occurring if all else fails, do something! We know an active response will mitigate the loss of life.