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Creator of the FBI's active shooter training 'shocked' at police response in Uvalde


It has been two weeks since an 18-year-old gunman walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 19 children, along with two of their teachers. Each day, there is new information about how law enforcement responded, and the picture emerging is, at best, chaotic - at worst, incompetent. News reports that the school resource officer drove by the shooter as he crouched between cars; that police waited more than an hour to head into the classroom while the gunman was inside; that the chief of school police showed up without his radio and stopped treating the incident as an active shooter situation. This list goes on.


We're going to bring in Katherine Schweit to talk about the law enforcement response in Uvalde. She spent two decades as an FBI special agent, and she created the agency's active shooter program after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Katherine Schweit, thank you for coming on the program.

KATHERINE SCHWEIT: Oh, my pleasure, Sacha. Thank you for having me under such bad circumstances.

PFEIFFER: Before we get into some of the specifics about the training programs you have worked on, I'm sure you react to these a bit differently than the rest of us might. Could you tell us what you thought when you heard about yet another mass shooting and one at this scale?

SCHWEIT: You know, my initial work started after Sandy Hook. So when this shooting occurred - nearly the same type of, you know, number of victims - it was like a gut punch. I was just overwhelmed. And I know everybody feels that way, but I've been working on this for so long, and I feel like I'm back at the beginning of the marathon race and have to run it all over again.

PFEIFFER: That it feels like there's not much progress being made.

SCHWEIT: Yeah. You know, I know there has been. In my head, I know there has been. But when I see something like this happen, I feel like, boy, we - you know, somewhere along the road, the bridge was blown up, and the law enforcement training just didn't happen in certain places where it should have - or the execution. You know, maybe that's the way to say it. It wasn't just the training. It was the execution.

PFEIFFER: So it sounds like you were surprised by how the execution played out. What was your reaction when you saw how police reacted or didn't react?

SCHWEIT: You know, I'm going to tell you the truth. I was shocked. I was shocked. And at first, I was - it was disbelief. I was like, they can't possibly have had this situation happen there. And they're not the first, you know, law enforcement community that has had some trip ups and some challenges in responding to things since I've been working on this. But this was just so there, so challenging to see it unfold and right in front of our eyes. That the law enforcement was there for an hour on the other side of a wall is just unheard of. I couldn't have written this if I'd written a script. People would have said they wouldn't believe it.

PFEIFFER: Right. And for people who haven't followed the details, when you say on the other side of the wall, you mean they were literally outside the classroom as there was a shooter inside sporadically shooting, and they did not go in?

SCHWEIT: Well, you know, it's complicated. All of these situations are incredibly chaotic, and there's no getting around that. And there will be a full detailed report where we will have a minute by minute, in many cases, second by second of what happened. But what we know for sure is that there were officers in the hallway on the other side of the door with a shooter inside the door. And that's just unacceptable in an active shooting situation.

PFEIFFER: Walk me through what an ideal response would have been according to the active shooter program you designed.

SCHWEIT: Let me qualify a little bit and just say, the law enforcement training that the FBI is pushing out and has pushed out for years requires that when there is active shooting underway, even if it's a single officer, you must pursue to the sound of the shooting or where you believe the shooter is. You must pursue all the way to the shooter and neutralize the shooter. That is the lone objective, and that - you should never waver from that.

PFEIFFER: Which is the opposite of what happened in this situation.

SCHWEIT: Sacha, it's difficult to explain how dynamic these are and have a listener maybe appreciate that this is a matter of seconds. And a law enforcement officer, if they're trained, should continue moving forward, even if it means busting through a door, shooting through a door. I recognize the risks that are going through their heads at, oh, my gosh, there's children in that classroom. I don't want to hurt a child. I don't want to - but we need to pursue, pursue, pursue, pursue because the shooters have already proven that they're willing to kill people, and they'll continue doing it. And that's why the priority is, you keep moving forward, even if it means you go through walls and if you go through windows and if you go through doors.

PFEIFFER: Katherine, we've been talking about the role of law enforcement. Let's also talk about the role of the children who are under fire or potentially under fire. You recently wrote in an op-ed for The New York Times that schools have put too much emphasis on training children to hide rather than flee. You're saying they need to run. Could you tell us more about that?

SCHWEIT: When I was working with then-Vice President Biden's team after the Sandy Hook shooting to look for solutions, one of the decisions that we made as a group - all the federal agencies said, look - run, hide, fight is what people do in a shooting. And run, hide, fight teaches us to do the run part first. What we're teaching kids in school is we're teaching the hide part in schools, but we're not teaching the run part. And we don't do that anyplace else in society. We don't tell kids in a mall, OK, just hide. Whatever's going on, hide under the bench at the Starbucks kiosk. So somehow, when it comes to schools, we missed an opportunity to teach children and teach adults in schools that they need to run. That's the first thing they need to do. They need to escape.

PFEIFFER: There's a line in your op-ed that I thought was really hard to read. It's when you talked about people who huddled under desks hoping they wouldn't be seen. And in the end, you end up finding victims' bodies huddled under plastic tables. I mean, it's - I can see why you would think the goal needs to be to get out of that room rather than to think that you can hide in that room.

SCHWEIT: Yeah. You know, I can tell you, I know that from personal experience, friends of mine, people who I know who have survived shootings - and you see people just huddled underneath desks where they hide on top of each other, and they die there. That can't be your first response. If it's your only response, then, you know, your next response should be to fight. Fight the shooter as long and hard as you can. But I know so many heroic stories about people who fought or ran. There were little kids who escaped from the Sandy Hook Elementary School because their teacher stepped up, stood in the way of the shooter, and they escaped out a side door. And the FBI, even just in recent years, released new training that says escape. Your first priority has to be to escape. You just can't be killed if you're not there.

PFEIFFER: Katherine, you note in your op-ed for The New York Times that your daughter is a middle school teacher. Is that right?

SCHWEIT: She is.

PFEIFFER: So I gather that this is not just professional for you, but it's also personal. And I wonder if you've talked to your daughter about this and, if so, what you've talked with her about.

SCHWEIT: I do talk to her about these kinds of things all the time because, you know, she's my baby. I'm always going to be worried about her. And if I can empower her with a conversation - and that includes letting her kids run out of her school room, even if the district doesn't teach that or - you know, one thing that I think that people don't recognize is how much control they have. They have so much control. Find out what your school is teaching. Talk to your kids about what they're learning. Talk to them about their safety. You talk to them about stranger danger and stop, drop and roll. And you don't talk to them about their own safety in a country right now where we're dealing with gun violence. You should.

PFEIFFER: That's Katherine Schweit. She spent two decades as an FBI special agent, and she created the agency's active shooter program after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. She's also the author of the book "Stop The Killing: How To End The Mass Shooting Crisis." Katherine, thank you.

SCHWEIT: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN JACOBY'S "TOMORROW'S SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.
Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.