Holiday Horror at Oregon Shopping Mall
- Mom, Aunt of CollapseNet CEO Narrowly Escape Shooter -
Situational Awareness in Insane Circumstances
by Wesley T. Miller,
President & CEO
Collapse Network, Inc.
Dec. 13, 2012 - Lake Oswego, OR - As reported by all major news outlets, on Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012, a lone shooter armed with a semi-automatic AR-15 .223 caliber rifle stormed the food court at Clackamas Town Center in Clackamas, Oregon, and opened fire on an innocent public taking a break from holiday shopping. The shooter, Jacob Tyler Roberts, 22, rushed into the shopping mall dressed in camouflage and wearing a white hockey mask and a tactical "load-bearing vest" filled with ammunition. Intent on killing as many people as possible, Roberts passed by a number of people in Macy's, waiting until he had reached a mostly-seated crowd of people at the mall's food court. Roberts leveled his rifle and opened fire at the crowd until his gun jammed, which allowed the crowd to quickly disperse before more carnage ensued.
Roberts killed two people in those brief seconds, but he was not done with his rampage.
Mall security and staff responded immediately with a recently-practiced response plan to deal with exactly this type of scenario. Shoppers scattered into stores which in turn quickly dropped their security gates to try to isolate the shooter and protect the people within those stores. First police responders were on the scene within one minute, followed by dozens of police within a few minutes and more than a hundred within the hour. Roberts is reported to have ran toward JCPenny's from the food court after his gun jammed, working successfully to clear the jammed weapon, and resume his shooting spree. He shot and wounded one more 15 year old victim before running out of targets in a mall that had just had 10,000 people in it, and turning the gun on himself.
My mother, Diane Berger, 64, and her sister, Dee Dee Pruitt, 62, had been shopping in JCPenny's, working their way to the food court, when the gunfire erupted. They heard at least 8 to 10 deafeningly loud shots, and reacted quickly. "A voice in my head yelled at me, 'Get out!', and that's what came out of my mouth right away. I said to Dee Dee, "Get out!", and we turned and ran away from the gunshots. There were people running from the food court with us, a few that were visibly shaken, so there wasn't any doubt about it being any prank or some sort of joke," Diane said, as she had overheard some people suggesting during the rush to the exits.
It was only after watching the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office press conference and seeing the diagrams of the shooter's route through the mall that we realized just how lucky they were. Only a few moments separated them from the line of fire, and after the first gun jam, the shooter went straight toward their location. Had they frozen in panic or chosen the wrong exit, they could have easily been among the victims. But this wasn't Diane's first experience with a chaotic murder scene, and she didn't panic or freeze. Like so many others in the mall that day, she kept her head, accepted the reality of the circumstances immediately, and reacted without hesitation or doubt. That situational awareness may have saved their lives.
Diane's last experience with sudden carnage occurred quite differently. It happened 14 years earlier at Portland's annual Rose Festival. Another of her sisters had come to visit and we took her to see the Navy fleet of ships docked along Waterfront Park in downtown Portland. The Portland Police aggressively ejected the public from the park right at midnight, having formed a line with batons out in riot suppression-like form, so the crowd was already agitated. As we rounded the corner of 2nd and Pine, we came across a group of people apparently watching a fight. The crowd seemed to push into a tighter circle for a moment, then it scattered wildly. I saw and heard a teenage girl yelling, "He's been shot!" I turned to my left and saw a young black man about 30 feet away from me wearing open flannel over a white T-shirt that had four silver-dollar sized blood stains, growing by the second, on his chest and abdomen, and blood squirting from the side of his neck. Having heard no gunshots myself, I reacted quickly to try to help him, as did two other people. The group I was with, including my mother, froze in place while trying to comprehend what was going on.
Because of my prior training and experience in law enforcement and having experienced a few other traumatic emergencies, I immediately grasped the situation and responded to help the victim after quickly scanning the crowd for the assailant. In a flash, I stripped off the leather jacket I was wearing and tossed it to a cousin, thinking I would also need to take off my shirt to use as a compress and because I wanted the first cops at the scene to plainly see that I was not armed or a potential threat. Another person announced himself as an EMT and took charge of medical care - trying to stop the bleeding. The effort was in vain. Sixteen year old Anthony Nnoli stared into my eyes as the light drained from his.
The great many details of confusion, chaos, and heartbreak from that evening are a major part of a book that I am writing. For this article, suffice it to say that the impact of that evening on all off us was everlasting. The post-traumatic stress affected me for years, and young Mr. Nnoli's look of fear in his death-stare will be with me as long as I live. But as Nietzsche said, that which does not kill you serves to make you stronger. It did for me, and I believe in my heart that that experience helped my mother to be better prepared for dealing with the surreal deadly emergency she found herself in while shopping on Tuesday. I am deeply grateful that Fate and a few moments of time separated her from the first shots, and quick wits and steely spine got her out of there without hesitation. Our hearts go out to the families of the folks who weren't so lucky, and we wish the surviving victim, and all the victims of the trauma of that day - a speedy and full recovery.
Senseless and tragic as it is, there were also many stories of personal bravery on Tuesday, and some lessons for us all. First, Portland area law enforcement and mall security deserve great praise for their very quick, decisive actions that likely saved many lives. Within a minute, the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office was on the scene responding under the "active shooter protocol" - the most bone-chilling radio call a cop will ever receive. Having learned from other mass shooting incidents and terrorist attacks such as in Mumbai a few years back, the active shooter protocol requires first-responder police to team up and take the offensive against the shooters immediately, without waiting for SWAT or other back-up before trying to engage the shooter(s). Put another way, the police who arrive at the scene first are supposed to find, engage, and neutralize the threat without delay - they must be willing to run right into an active gunfight! It is the only scenario I am aware of that requires police to be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to save members of the public. Anybody willing to do that deserves great respect, and they have it from Portlanders this week.
Mall security was also impressive. They had a plan for this type of nightmare, they practiced the plan, and as a result, it was implemented perfectly under the circumstances. All stores dropped their security grate doors, closing off access to the shooter and limiting his ability to move throughout the mall. Many employees and business owners stepped up to try to protect as many people as possible, hiding people behind locked doors anywhere they could. One of the most compelling stories we've heard was of "Dr. Murray" at Gentle Dental, who let 20 some people into his office who had been locked in an adjacent hallway. As they huddled in the center of the dental offices, someone outside started pounding frantically on the hallway door. The group inside had to decide in an instant whether or not to open the door - it could have been the shooter - with all of their lives hanging in the balance. They opened the door to find another mall employee who went the wrong way and had nowhere else to go. She was frantic, scared to death. Shortly after they closed the door again, the shooter walked down that same now-empty hallway, and that's where he killed himself.
It could have been so much worse...
It will be a long time before this community heals from this event, but there are already valuable lessons that everyone can take away from this tragedy. The first, and most important, thing to know is that yes, IT CAN HAPPEN TO YOU! Random acts of violence can happen anyplace at anytime, and if you find yourself in it, you need to keep a clear head while reacting fast. Hesitation or panic can easily get you killed.
What follows is the best advice I or anyone can give you if you find yourself in a public shooting situation:
1) Run! Get away from the direction of the shooting as fast as you possibly can, keeping low and using whatever cover you can find;
2) Hide! If you can't run away, hide in a locked room if possible. Stay quiet and secluded until you know the danger is over;
3) Attack! If you can't run and have nowhere to hide, or if the gun jams or the shooter is reloading and you are close enough (and able-bodied), attack the bastard with everything you have and keep attacking until the lunatic is "neutralized". Completely.
The first two items are what law enforcement universally will tell you. Number 3 might be controversial to some folks, but it has proven itself as an effective tactic several times in recent history. The most recent example was the Gabriel Giffords shooter, who was stopped by potential victims as he tried to reload, limiting the death toll. Another example is Kip Kinkel, the high school shooter in Springfield, OR, who killed his parents and then went on a school shooting spree over a decade ago. Kinkel was also stopped by a quick-thinking kid who was wounded and yet chose to attack Kinkel while he was reloading, saving many lives in the process. Any Marine or Army infantryman will tell you that when you are ambushed, the only thing you can do is attack the ambushers, or else you will get pinned down and picked off. I hold the same is true in a public shooting situation - IF you cannot run or hide, or you can end the threat with swift action of your own, then there simply is no other rational choice - attack with your own violence of action against the shooter before you get shot.
I have written on this website before that I believe the single biggest threat to anyone and everyone as economic and social circumstances decline are random acts of violence and people losing their minds as they lose their stuff. We don't know what motivated Jacob Tyler Roberts on Tuesday, but I stand by my assessment above. Violence CAN happen to you, suddenly, without warning or reason. As greater numbers of people become more unhinged through financial misery, emotional neglect, untreated mental illness, or any other reason, the chances of you personally having to face violent actions or there consequences continue to go up. It is wise to prepare yourself as best you can to deal with it.
UPDATE - 10:37 PST on 12-14-12:
My heart literally aches today over the horror in Newtown, CT. It is hard to hold back my tears for the all the parents and children who are suffering today. They need all the love and support they can get, and will for a long time to come, just as do the folks in Portland.
When will this madness end?!
My kids' have been well drilled already for what to do if this nightmare happens, and their school has had many lock-down drills even before this week. It breaks my heart that they even have to know about this kind of horror, much less have to train on how to protect themselves from it, if that is possible.
My opinion on the entire subject has now crystallized. My #3 recommendation above NEEDS to become the standard public response to mass shootings. Just like passengers on airplanes stopping would-be terrorists, I now wholeheartedly 100% believe that if you are an able-bodied adult and you are near an active shooter, you have the moral and ethical obligation to do everything in your power to stop them immediately. Bum-rush the motherfuckers and take them out!! That is essentially what the cops are now trained to do with their “active shooter scenario”, and goddamn it, that is what is necessary to end these mass killings as soon as possible after they start.
Call it the Public Self-Defense Initiative and start pushing the idea.
I am completely serious. It is past fucking time that regular people start taking responsibility for their fellow humans, especially children and people unable to defend themselves. Yes, you might get killed in the rush to subdue the gunman, but the odds may be worse if you don’t – you may just get mowed down with the crowd. It’s very apparent to me that if the psycho in Portland had any training and knew his weapon, the death toll would easily have been in the dozens. But if you read the stories, you know that he ran when his gun jammed – he was immediately vulnerable and he knew it. It is in a moment like that that able folks need to act, and end the threat for everyone’s sake. En masse and reflexive, just like stopping a would-be bomber on an airplane from lighting a fuse.
We must do whatever we must to stop these monsters.