CELINA — Patrick Ammon opens the door to Room 229 at Wright State University Lake Campus, full of students and a teacher at the front.
“Bang, bang! Bang, bang, bang!” he yells, as the students rush toward him aiming to take his gun, disorient him, and throw things in his way.
Ammon is a Wright State University crime prevention manager, and this is only a test. The weapon is a bright orange practice gun — Ammon’s service weapon is across the room in the care of the campus’s security director, Officer Tyler Pottkotter.
The things the students are throwing are just racquetballs.
But Ammon said he hopes the students will learn how to protect themselves in this active shooter and safety training class, and learn how to react to a gunman attempting mass casualties on campus.
In the wake of shootings at Virginia Tech, and more recently, in Sandy Hook, schools have had an interest in learning strategies to survive shootings, Ammon said. The program is now the No. 1 campus safety program this year, even surpassing women’s self defense. Awareness is increasing worldwide, and with it, programs like Columbine Massacre, a free downloadable video game for children that puts them in the position of the shooter. What doesn’t make sense, he said, are the casualty rates.
“The casualty rates are not normal,” Ammon said.
The casualty rates are too high for such a small number of shooters. Even the biggest person, if rushed by a classroom of 15 people attempting to take his weapon, throwing things, and attacking him, would be taken down.
Lockdown, he said, is not going to save students, though it may be a good first step.
“If getting under a desk is all they’re teaching you, they’re teaching you to be executed,” Ammon said.
Ammon said it only helps when a shooter is kept outside the building. The same advantages it gives the school, of keeping students in one place and knowing where they are, controlling movement, and making things convenient, is the same knowledge a shooter can use to bring on as many casualties as possible.
What Ammon, and other teachers of options for response propose, said is that when a life is in danger, do anything it takes to survive, even if it means risking injury by jumping out a window or taking a bullet when using a large number of people to overwhelm the shooter.
“(A mass shooting) is the closest thing to combat on American soil,” Ammon said.
He reminded students that while the chances were slim of it happening here, it is possible anywhere that people may get angry for being fired, or expelled. Shootings have occurred in malls, churches, movie theaters in addition to colleges, and he said police have learned from experience what strategies help.
Ammon said if a person is determined to get into a building, he will. Most buildings are not built to keep people out. If a person knows that a shooter is nearby, barricading the door and turning off the light can be a deterrent, because the only goal for the shooter is to kill as many people as possible as easily as possible. The second thing, he said, is not to negotiate.
“Negotiations will get you shot,” he said.
Ammon said to run, if possible, and to be aggressive, if cornered, and to work with others if possible. He added that shot or injured isn’t killed. “If you’re shot 10 times, don’t think, ‘I’m going to die,’” he said, citing incidents of people shot multiple times who survive.
Becoming a sitting/hiding target, however, will make it easier to be killed, Ammon said.
Often attackers do not have great skill with moving targets, and they aren’t planning for the unexpected. The sole goal for the shooters, he noted, is to kill people and to live on in the infamy that results from the media recordings and on the Internet, even post-suicide.
Things like having a person fight back, being rushed by people, having objects thrown or a receiving a well-placed kick can turn the tables.
“What is your life worth to you?” Ammon said.
If a person knows an attacker is shooting in the room and the person is unable to fight, then jumping from a third floor window may be the smartest decision that person could make.
As for fighting, Ammon said that at Columbine many people in the school could have had the physical strength to intervene, especially if they worked together.
At the Lake Campus, Ammon commended Pottkotter as being well-trained and the first officer they’d see on the scene if something happened on campus.
On the other hand, he said, the officer could be as much as three minutes away, and school shootings many times happen in a five to seven minute window. The two-hour class also included a quick overview of first aid practices during shootings.