Huntingtown, MD – On a Sunday evening they came to a large church to preach to the masses. No, this was not a band of clergy but uniformed police officers on a mission. Chesapeake Church in Calvert County hosted the April 15 presentation, Civilian Response to an Active Shooter Event (CRASE). The session was organized by Keep Calvert Schools Safe, a group that was created due to school security concerns in the wake of recent shooting incidents at American Schools.

The law enforcement officers conducting CRASE included Maryland State Police (MSP) Trooper First Class Casey Ruth, a Calvert County native who is currently assigned to the Leonardtown Barrack. It was Ruth who offered to present CRASE to Calvert County Public Schools (CCPS) for free during a second public meeting hosted by Keep Calvert Schools Safe. That meeting was held less than a week prior to the shooting that occurred at Great Mills High School. Other participating officers were MSP First Sergeant (F/Sgt.) Jonathan Hill, Deputy First Class (Dfc.) Nick De Felice and Sgt. David Canning, both of the Calvert County Sheriff’s Office.

“Hopefully, you all leave here feeling safe,” said De Felice.

Sheriff Mike Evans, who attended the first half of CRASE, declared Calvert “the safest county in Maryland. We want to keep it that way.”

Hill stated that all across America parents are filing law suits against school systems for not training students in the event of an active shooter. He admitted “law enforcement has dropped the ball” in training the public on how to quickly act during and after a shooter attack. Hill said after the April 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado law enforcement’s standard procedure of surrounding a building with a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) team was reconsidered since it proved ineffective in saving lives.

The attendees were then shown an 11-1/2-minute distributed by Texas State University called “Avoid, Deny, Defend™” which depicts the implementation of a response training program developed about 16 years ago. A man carrying a bag walks into a large retail store and assembles a rifle. A stock clerk sees what the man is doing and begins running in the opposite direction. When the man begins firing, other people in the store begin running to find a safe place. A female store employee calls 911. A meeting of store management in an adjacent part of the building is halted when the gunman is spotted out in the hallway. The conference room door is closed and locked and those in the room silence their cell phones and turn out the lights.

The gunman’s inability to access the room prompts him the move elsewhere to seek targets. The stock clerk arrives in the warehouse area of the store and warns two other employees of the gunman’s approach. The three find a place to hide and it is there that one of the males whispers, “we are going to have to defend ourselves. We have the right to defend ourselves.” Determined not to die at the gunman’s hands, the three sneak up on the gunman, struggle with him, subdue and disarm him. The would-be victims in the dramatization all performed the three options—they avoided the attacker, denied him access to their area and defended themselves.

Ruth explained that there is no mass-shooter prototype, however the risk factors that might prompt this behavior by an individual include a history of violence, mental illness and drug and alcohol use. While shootings in education locations (high schools, colleges and universities) attract widespread attention, over half of the shooting incidents (54 percent) are committed in a commercial venue. Ruth stated that over 50 percent of the time the attacker has a connection to the venue. 

Ruth indicated that an ideal safety plan to respond to an active shooter gives those in harm’s way at least three minutes to stay safe once authorities are notified. “That’s the time we need you to be OK,” she said, adding that a three-minute response time is the best estimate for a timely police response.

In reacting to a shooter, De Felice urged the audience members to take “hiding and hoping out of your vocabulary.” Instead, taking action—avoiding, running, knowing where exits are located, locking doors, turning out lights, barricading doors and, if necessary, defending and fighting—using anything you can find, such as fire extinguishers, scissors, any large, sharp objects. “Don’t fight fair, be aggressive,” experts advised. Both deputies also explained reaction to gunfire is a key component to knowing when to go into survival mode. The mindset of most people is that gunfire must be something else, like a back-firing vehicle or firecrackers.

Attendees were urged to consider developing a critical incident plan at their workplaces. Ruth also asked attendees to not make the perpetrators famous. “Don’t name them,” she said. “They want you to remember them for a bad reason. I’d rather remember the heroes.”

The April 15 event at Chesapeake Church, was moderated by the church’s senior pastor, Robert Hahn. Three county commissioners—Pat Nutter, Tom Hejl and Mike Hart—attended, along with Calvert Board of Education Member Kelly McConkey, whose wife, Kim, organized the event through her leadership of Keep Calvert Schools Safe. Visit the organization’s Facebook page to learn about any future events.

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