School violence started before Labor Day. Already in August we’ve seen teachers and students in a West Virginia school taken hostage by a 14-year-old with a handgun.

At Philip Barbour High School in Philippi, West Virginia, the standoff stretched through several tense hours, until the attacker finally allowed his hostages to be released. He later surrendered to officers without either side firing a shot.

The hostage taker was put into custody and sent to a local hospital for evaluation. Prosecutors are expected to file charges soon. The school reopened the next day with police present.

“Unfortunately, we can anticipate seeing this drama play out again across the country. Most of these events are resolved non-violently. Other hostage situations can potentially result in grave consequences.” says Richard H. Price Principal, Senior Analyst, CPTED CPD with Soteria Group, who served 21 years as an FBI Special Agent. “We at the Soteria Group want to give all schools guidance on how to survive such crises.”

‘Many of these incidents can be avoided if teachers and administrators can keep their ears open to the gossip and whispers that echo throughout any school; these events don’t happen out of the blue. Many confrontations simmer to a boil. Students hear the bubbling long before adults do,” says Paul Feist, Principal and Senior Analyst with the Soteria Group, who has 25 years’ experience in law enforcement.  

If a teacher knows a confrontation is brewing, it will most likely happen where there will be an audience. Don’t go into that situation as the only adult. Get backup. Other teachers, the principal, a janitor, anyone who can to help you de-escalate the conflict before it gets started,” says Feist.

“Because you’re an authority figure you often take the attacker’s focus off the students. Unfortunately, however, the focus of ill-intent often shifts to you,” says Price. “Your greatest tactical advantage is your ability to keep calm. You can think rationally while the person with the gun, most likely, can’t.”

DON’T

  • Don’t confront the student with the weapon.
  • Don’t promise a successful outcome that’s beyond your power to deliver. Attackers can react violently to false promises.
  • Don’t get between the police and the student with the gun.
  • Don’t try to negotiate once the police negotiators arrive. They are trained how to handle these situations while you are not. They (not you) need to build rapport with the hostage taker.
  • If the police tactical team is on the move in your school. Don’t move out of the building or into the hallways until the tactical team tells you it is safe to do so. Expect everyone to be handcuffed until the police can sort everything out.

DO:

  • Once the shooting/fighting starts, keep yourself and the other students low, especially around the windows. Tear gas canisters may be coming your way.

Regardless of wherever these hostage crises take place, we at the Soteria Group can train all school personnel how to handle these situations to reduce the risk of violence. Give us a call.