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Spencer Rendahl: Active Shooter Training

It was a warm April afternoon in nineteen ninety nine when I first heard about the Columbine massacre in which two Columbine shooters killed thirteen before taking their own lives. I was about to teach a yoga class and my yoga training hadn’t prepared me for how to respond to an event like this. So my students and I simply sat on our mats and talked. Almost two decades and many mass shootings later, Columbine is no longer in the top ten for worst death toll – and my training as a yoga teacher includes a new topic: which is how to respond to “active shooters.”

We’ve seen mass shootings in schools, churches, workplaces, movie theaters, military bases – and even Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where both my children were born - so why not a yoga class?

In my training I learned that active shooters are usually male and often hold a grudge against the place or people they attack – like the shooter who targeted his former school, Sandy Hook Elementary, in Newtown, Connecticut five years ago this Thursday. Vigils are being held this week in memory of those who died.

In October, a man set himself up in a hotel suite in Las Vegas, the city where he frequently gambled, broke the windows and fired down at a concert, killing fifty nine and injuring hundreds more.

In November, a Texas shooter killed twenty six people in the church his ex-wife attended.

And just last week, Aztec High School in New Mexico was the site of a shooting in which 3 people died, including the shooter.

I’ve learned that the first, best response is still to simply help people flee from danger. At Sandy Hook, one group of first graders instinctively ran from school to safety at a neighbor’s house after the shooting began.

The second best thing is to help people hide in a safe space, lock or barricade the door, and turn off the lights. While I normally consider a cell phone a lifeline to safety, I learned to turn it off because its sound and light can reveal a hiding place.

And if all else fails, fight. Shooters don’t expect a challenge, so experts advise giving them one – by surprise if possible – with whatever you have.

Someday this information could save my life and that of others.

But I mourn the necessity.

Suzanne Spencer Rendahl is a former journalist whose work has appeared in publications including the Boston Globe. She lives with her husband and two children in Plainfield, NH.
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