Opportunities in History
The history of active shooter incidents in our country is tragically extensive. One of the earliest however, may not be common knowledge: May 18, 1927, started off in Bath Township, Penn. when Andrew Kehoe killed his wife, who was ill with tuberculosis. Then, in an act presaging the use of IEDs at Columbine High School 50-plus years into the future, Kehoe used a timer to detonate hundreds of pounds of dynamite hidden in the basement of a local school that was in session. A second timer—in another part of the same school—with a comparable amount of explosives failed to detonate. Clearly, Kehoe had been preparing for his day of days for some time. After the explosion, he chose a terminal tactic all too familiar from more recent history. He drove up in a vehicle packed with still more explosives and triggered another detonation, killing himself and others. At the end of Kehoe’s rampage, 44 people—including 38 children—were dead and 58 more were injured.
Between then and now, history recounts numerous active shooter events that we can learn from and use to prepare. The majority of such information comes from newspapers and magazines, the media and the Internet. The opportunity to hear a firsthand account from someone at one of these incidents is rare, but one such opportunity recently came my way.
For a number of years, I’ve been teaching an Active Shooter Response Instructor course. It is one of my passions to share as much as I can on this extremely important topic. At the start of each class, student introductions are called for. As part of this, each person is asked to briefly share anything relevant from their law enforcement experience. In this case, the comments were of a common nature. That is, until Officer Rob Young introduced himself. He basically brought the class to a standstill: as a young boy, he had survived an active shooter incident. To me, this was a firsthand historical opportunity.
Back in Time
Let’s backtrack to Jan. 17, 1989, at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, Calif. The morning started with an anonymous phone call to the Stockton Police Department. The caller warned of a death threat aimed at that school. The caller was never identified, but a short while later, Patrick Purdy brought those threats to reality. At 24 years of age, he had an extensive criminal history and a dysfunctional family life that was the polar opposite of the idyllic Ozzie and Harriet standard. Purdy had become involved in the white supremacist movement and carried a hatred of the Southeast Asian immigrants who were settling in the Stockton area. According to various sources, Purdy had mental issues and at one point was evaluated as being a danger to himself and others. (Surely, you have heard this phrase before.) Added to this mix was a history of alcohol and drug abuse. All this now morphed into a violent assault focused on the innocent.
That January morning, Purdy parked his station wagon near the school. The vehicle was packed with fireworks, which he lit with a Molotov cocktail. He then walked onto the Cleveland Elementary grounds where he had once played as a child. He was armed with a Chinese-made AK-47 and wore a flak jacket. It was recess, so most of the student body—including numerous Cambodian and Vietnamese children—were within his field of fire. In the space of three minutes, Purdy repeatedly pressed the trigger, launching more than 100 rounds at these young targets. And then in a frequently repeated terminal behavior, he put a pistol in his mouth and ended his life. Five innocent kids lay dead and 30 others were wounded. Among the latter was Young, who was 6 years old.