How to spot an active shooter: See something, say something

  • Published
  • By Brandice J. O'Brien
  • Tinker Public Affairs
Spotting an active shooter, or someone who may want to inflict harm on another individual, may not be as easy as it seems. After all, officials said the characteristics of an active shooter are too vague to be a credible profile.

Rather than "looking" for a potential candidate, get to know your surroundings and the people in it. When something seems out of the norm, say something. Report any findings to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations Det. 114's Eagle Eyes program, the 72nd Security Forces Squadron or the appropriate chain of command.

"When we looked at an active shooter in the workplace, the age, demographic, religious, economic and education profile is a male between 15 and 55," said Craig Kerr, 72nd Air Base Wing assistant installation anti-terrorism officer. "So instead of profiling a person's characteristics, we have to profile their character and activity."

Mr. Kerr said when a character profile is narrowed, roughly 40 percent of the population fits into it. Furthermore, a majority of active shooters from 2002 to 2009 categorized themselves as victims of bullying and as a result had suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide as a cry for help.

In other cases, the individual experienced a significant loss - whether it personal or within the workplace - and had not recovered from the event.

Active shooters tend to be interested in violent television shows, movies, video games, books and art. Many also explore hostility through their own means, such as writing, poetry and self-composed songs, but don't have a previous history of violent behavior. But, their attack is not a matter of losing their cool. Attacks are typically planned, whether it's a few hours or weeks in advance.

Planning consisted of scouting weapons, speaking with someone about how to use a particular weapon -- even though an attacker already likely has access to a weapon -- or gathering information about the target. In many cases, the attacker had help during the planning stages, even if the so-called accomplices weren't aware of their roles.

Despite their affliction for violence, active shooters did not directly threaten their targets. They spoke ill of the person or situation and talked to their peers and family about getting even, but kept their distance until the event.

"The motive for most of the attacks was revenge," Mr. Kerr said. "They were bullied and they just can't be bullied to the end, so this is their response. They are very desperate people."

Should an individual react violently at Tinker, Mr. Kerr said it likely won't be a bomb, suicide bomber, or an assault by multiple people.

Mr. Kerr said in three-quarters of incidents, at least one other person knew the individual was planning an attack and wasn't surprised when the incident happened. Additionally, 95 percent of attackers did something to cause concern among officials, parents or peers.

"So how do we know when something is abnormal with one of our workmates?" Mr. Kerr asked. "Consciously look at your environment so you know what normal versus abnormal looks like. Get to know your fellow workers and understand what makes them tick, so if they go berzerk and make you feel uncomfortable, at least you have a reason to report it."

For more information, call Mr. Kerr at 739-7199.