Here’s the scenario:
A Savanna High School basketball player named Sarah sends a text to her coach at 11 p.m. Monday.
In the text, Sarah indicates that she just received a text from her ex-boyfriend, Rich, who attends another high school
The message includes a photo of Rich with a handgun in his mouth and the words, “I can’t live without you on this earth. We will die together and exist together eternally in heaven. Tomorrow is judgment day.”
That disturbing and potentially tragic manifesto was presented by Anaheim Police Sgt. Darrin Lee to a panel of experts at a recent Orange County Crisis Response Conference workshop.
The mission of the day-long conference, which took place at the USC Academic Center in Irvine, was to bring public safety experts, mental health professionals and the education community together to learn optimum collaborative strategies for dealing with critical incidents.
The scenario involving a distraught Rich was part of the Mock Incident Panel Discussion, which featured Cpt. Nick Colonelli of Anaheim Fire & Rescue, Anaheim Police Officer Brett Heitmann, Heather Williams, Regional Peer Support Coordinator with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, Sue Johnson, Savanna School District superintendent, Philip Kopp, Criminal Justice professor at Cal State Fullerton and County Supervisor Todd Spitzer.
Based on the text message, Rich’s threat should be taken seriously, Kopp said.
“He’s giving indicators about what he wants to do,” Kopp said. “He has lack of resiliency. He broke up. He is having trouble getting over it. He seems rigid. He is all or nothing.”
Having everyone at the school know their roles for what could become a deadly situation should be worked out well in advance, Johnson said.
“It’s really in the preparation for this type of event,” Johnson said. “Knowing what to do with the information That is the critical piece.”
More elements are infused into the scenario:
Rich doesn’t show up for school the next morning. At 9:30 a.m., a coach calls the school office reporting the sounds of shots fired. A student is down on the basketball court outside. The Anaheim PD is bombarded with 911 calls, many from students’ cell phones, reporting a shooter in black utility pants picking off victims with a rifle. He is also armed with a handgun.
Those calls would prompt a unified response from police and emergency personnel and likely draw first responders from throughout the county, Heitmann said.
“The initial officers who get there will form what we call contact teams and their goal is to find the shooter and stop the shooter as soon as possible,” Heitmann said. “Our protocol is going to be to dispatch a battalion chief, three paramedic engines, a truck company and three ambulances.”
More resources will be rolled out if needed, Heitmann said.
Meanwhile, the campus would be in a state of “mass chaos,” Johnson said.
“Now you’ve got parents panicked,” Johnson said. “You’ve got parents rushing to the school to pick up their kids. I think everyone is in chaos.”
The scenario becomes more intense and more tragic:
The school is on lockdown and as first responders arrive, they hear gunfire and screaming from the west end of the quad. There are multiple victims down. Some appear dead. Some of the wounded victims are running from the center of campus and indicate that the shooter was entering a classroom – the same classroom where Sarah was. Public safety personnel enter the classroom where Sarah appears to be dead. She was shot by Rich in front of the entire class. Rich surrenders, rather than trying to shoot it out with the police.
So what happens now, Lee asks.
What happens to Rich?
We know that Rich will be charged with multiple counts of homicide and will need mental health treatment.
And the victims?
Spitzer said students and their families, along with family members of victims, should be kept in the loop through every step of the legal process.
“Your kids are going to come to school and be confused, and there needs to be an approach where you are educated about what is taking place in the system,” Spitzer said.
Referring to the 2011 Seal Beach Salon Meritage shooting, when eight people were shot and killed, giving the victims’ loved ones a forum for processing their grief would be necessary.
Williams helped organize a memorial service, which took place on the one-year anniversary of the salon shooting.
“We gave the survivors an opportunity to speak, so it was about memorializing, it was about remembering, and it was also about the growth that comes from tragedy,” Williams said. “So it was turning something very horrific into an opportunity for resiliency building and growth.”