Nathan Tate is 13 years old and in the eighth grade. Yet, he’s already spent a long afternoon crouched under his desk while a man with a gun roamed the neighborhood near his former school.
“They locked down my school,” Nathan said of the Dec. 5, 2013, incident that shut down the Forest Ridge and Laurel Woods elementary schools in North Laurel. “The teachers shut the blinds and we all hid under our desks for maybe 90 minutes. I got a cramp in my leg.”
That’s why Nathan’s father, Jason Tate, 42, of Havre de Grace brought his two oldest sons to Aberdeen Church of Christ on Saturday morning to participate in an active-shooter training class conducted by the Harford County sheriff’s department.
“You think something like this is never going to happen here,” Senior Deputy Brad Crossley said, “not in sleepy Harford County. But we’ve had two active-shooter situations here in the past 11 months.”
The latest came Thursday, a shooting at a Rite Aid warehouse near Aberdeen that left four dead, including the assailant, Snochia Moseley, who shot herself. Three other people were injured.
On Oct. 18, 2017, a gunman killed three people and wounded two others when he opened fire at Advance Granite Solutions in Edgewood. A suspect, Radee Prince, is awating trial in the attack; he recently was sentenced to 40 years in prison for an unrelated shooting in Delaware.
The training session at the church had been scheduled long before the Rite Aid shooting, Crossley said. But the massacre was clearly on the minds of the deputies and the 30 people who attended the two-hour class.
“My daughter used to work at that Rite Aid,” said Kersey Jones, 78, of Aberdeen. “She could have been there when it happened.”
It’s only been since about 2010 that active-assailant training has been offered to ordinary citizens, Crossley said. Before these assaults became so common, the training was provided exclusively to law enforcement personnel.
A slideshow offered participants grim statistics:
In 2017, there were 28 mass homicides in the United States in heavily populated, public spaces. That’s about one every 13 days. One-hundred forty-seven people were killed in these attacks and nearly 700 were wounded.
Though school shootings exert a visceral grip on the public imagination, they’re comparatively uncommon. “Active shootings occur overwhelmingly at places of business,” Crossley said, “and the shooter is a disgruntled current or former employee.” Moseley had been hired as a seasonal worker at Rite Aid in early September.
Contrary to what most people think, mass murderers usually do not take their own lives. Some 29 percent of assailants commit suicide; 57 percent are arrested, and 14 percent are killed by law enforcement officials.
More than four in five assailants — 82 percent — used a gun, though bombs and homicides caused by driving a car or truck are becoming more common.
Nearly three-fourths of mass attackers — 71 percent — had prior criminal records, while not quite two-thirds — 64 percent — had a documented history of mental illness, as the sheriff’s department said Moseley did.
Seventy-eight percent of mass murderers selected victims at random; they didn’t care who they killed, Crossley said, but aimed to slay as many people in as little time as possible. And 79 percent of these attackers had publicly threatened violence before the attacks occurred. Frequently, these threats were posted on social media.
“Most of these assaults are thoroughly planned for weeks, months, sometimes years in advance,” Crossley said. “It’s very difficult to keep all that secret. You want to be on the lookout for the signs.”
Several participants at Saturday’s training session were accompanied by young children. Jason Tate said he hated to bring his boys to the church, hated to make them think about how they’d react to violence on what should be a placid Saturday morning.
“I almost feel like I’m taking their childhoods away,” he said. “But crazy things happen, and I want them to be able to protect themselves.”
Crossley had more bad news for attendees:
“From start to finish, an active-assailant situation will be over in less than four minutes,” he said. “Statistically, the odds of law enforcement getting to the scene before the shooting is over are very, very slim.”
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing potential victims can do to reduce their odds of dying. Deputy Marco Barresi said that people caught in a violent situation should take the following steps, in order:
Run for any available exit. “You are eight to nine times more likely to survive by running than if you stay put,” he said.
If you can’t escape, hide. Lock the doors of the room in which you’re concealed. Barricade the entrance. Turn off the lights and lower the blinds. Stay away from the windows and turn off your cellphones.
If your hiding place is discovered, fight, preferably by swarming the assailant in a group. Everyday office supplies can be converted into weapons — fire extinguishers, chairs, phone cords, mugs filled with hot coffee.