Rapid Response: Don’t look away from Lewiston, instead learn and prepare
Mass shootings remind us of our shared vulnerability and that we will always be there for our communities
What happened: A man shot and killed at least 16 people inside a restaurant and bowling alley in Lewiston, Maine, on Oct. 25. The suspect fled the scene, and police from throughout Maine are searching for him while advising residents to shelter-in-place. Police announced Robert Card, 40, as a person of interest. They described Card as a firearms instructor and Army Reservist who was committed to a mental health facility for two weeks this past summer.
Why it’s significant: Another U.S. community is grappling with the terror and loss of a mass shooting while the rest of the country anxiously monitors the news, pledges assistance, and offers thoughts and prayers. Every mass shooting incident reminds us of our shared vulnerability to those intent on inflecting death, but also reassures us that strangers will heroically care for others, first responders will rush toward danger and neighbors will support each other through the dark days ahead, long after the spotlight moves from Lewiston to another community.
Top takeaways: It is important that we don’t look away from Lewiston or become numb to this type of violence in our midst. Use the ongoing news updates from the Maine shooting to prepare yourself, your family, your department and your community for a mass shooting. Review response protocols, public message templates and communication processes in light of the immediate news and the lessons learned that will come from Lewiston.
Here are five areas worth consideration in the days ahead:
1. Facts as we know them will change
Don’t expect public safety officials or the media to get everything 100% right in the minutes and hours after an incident like this. Bystander and eyewitness accounts tell part of the story. News accounts, quoting an official, not authorized to speak on the record, is passing information heard in a briefing, which might not be objective, verified or conclusive. Surveillance video and investigation findings will add additional details. Collect information from reliable sources and evaluate the credibility of information shared on social media.
2. Shelter in place instructions
Officials advised residents of Androscoggin County to “shelter in place” last night and today while law enforcement officials searched for the suspect. Are you confident the people in your community know what it means to “shelter in place”? How is a shelter in place advisory different than a lockdown? Does the cause of a shelter in place advisory, from severe weather to mass shooter to escaped prisoner, alter how to shelter in place? Residents in your community might be asking these questions and you have an opportunity and obligation to answer their questions, as well as prepare just-in-time education materials for when your community advises residents to shelter in place at some point in the future.
3. Shooter on the move
Some mass murderers preplan to die in a shootout with police. Others leave the scene and flee the area. The Parkland High School and Highland Park parade shooter both left the scene and were later apprehended by police. Until the suspected shooter is in custody, all first responders should assume that it is the suspect’s intent to continue violent attacks on the public. Take all appropriate scene safety and personal safety precautions.
4. Process and act
Public safety, public health and elected officials need to continue to educate the public that if they unexpectedly hear balloons popping or fireworks exploding to assume it is gunfire until proven otherwise. One bowler reportedly thought he heard balloons popping. “I had my back turned to the door. And as soon as I turned and saw it was not a balloon — he was holding a weapon — I just booked it.”
5. Correlation is not causation
Finally, mental illness isn’t a precursor to mass violence any more than being an Army Reservist is a predictor of mass violence. Only a small percentage of people with mental illness or military experience become violent. As police search for the person of interest avoid disparagement and accusations toward those with mental illness. Because police are searching for a person with mental illness doesn’t mean mental illness is a cause of or predictor of mass violence.
Police1, FireRescue1 and EMS1 have articles, webinars and podcasts to help police officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs prevent, respond to, investigate and recover from mass shootings. Review these resources to learn more.