I’ve been obsessing about the devastating shooting at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. I can’t imagine what it was like for the people who went to see Batman to suddenly be surrounded by gunfire on July 20, 2012.
News reports say the shooter, James Holmes, is 24 years old and comes from a well-to-do family. Friends and neighbors described him as “shy” and “intelligent.”
He was accepted into a graduate program to study neuroscience at the University of Colorado but was in the process of withdrawing, reports say.
“He was crazy,” my husband insists. Is there any other possible explanation? To hurt that many people for no reason–to plan and commit such a senseless act of violence–must be a result of mental disturbances.
How does a young man with a promising future become a ruthless killer? What is happening to humans that we are perpetuating violence, like the bombings/shootings in Norway and now this? Does any other species commit mass murder?
I feel so sad for the victims. And for the survivors, who will be haunted by what happened for a long, long time.
Which brings me to my real obsession: How did some of the people in that crowded movie theater manage to survive while others were murdered?
How do you keep your wits about you in an emergency?
“There are any number of events that can turn your life into a fight for survival,” Frugal Kiwi writes. “You’ve got a better chance of winning that fight if you are prepared.”
But how do you expect the unexpected? What do you do?
If you surf the Internet, you’ll find a lot of advice. Smart tips:
*Cover your nose and mouth so you aren’t breathing in gas.
*Drop below smoke if there’s an explosion.
*Move away from the windows, as they might explode in a bomb raid.
*If the threat is outside, get inside. If the threat is inside, get outside.
This all sounds so sensible. But when a 24-year-old opens fire in a crowded movie theater nothing makes any sense.
My friend’s grandma was working in a kitchen in Poland during the Holocaust with several other Jewish women. One day the Nazis came and lined the women up outside. They started firing at one end of the line. My friend’s grandmother, who had a baby in her arms, was at the other end. She clutched her daughter to her, whispered the “Sh’ma” (a Jewish prayer of unity that I have loved ever since Lisa told me this story: “Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad”), and ran as fast as she could into the adjacent woods where she hid until the killings were over. Later she stepped over the bodies of her slain co-workers. She managed not only to survive that attack but to find a way to keep her daughter safe during the war and to find her again after the war ended.
Lisa’s grandmother, by sheer luck of the draw, was last in the firing line. Sometimes there is nothing you can do and you cannot avoid being killed. But what I learn from that story, and from reading about the heros who helped others and managed not to die in the Aurora Colorado shooting, is that you have a better chance of surviving if you:
1) Don’t panic: One young woman who died started screaming after she’d been shot in the leg. She was in a state of absolute terror. Her panic drew the gunman’s attention to her and he shot her in the head.
2) Act: This may mean you curl into a ball underneath the movie theater seat or you clutch your baby and run. But you try something, even if it’s just ducking behind a tree to take five seconds to take stock of the situation. If it doesn’t work, don’t keep doing it. Try something else.
3) Remember it’s hard to hit a moving target: We tend to freeze in the face of danger, which is not necessarily a bad reaction but it does give a potential killer an easy shot. It’s very hard to hit a moving target, even when you are an excellent marksman. If someone has a gun on you and you know they plan to shoot it, don’t stand there. Run. If the situation is really dire, you may have an even better chance if you do the unexpected and run towards the killer, startling him just long enough for you to get away.
4) Pay attention to your intuition: Former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole says that people try to normalize abnormal situations, which is why a serial killer can bury bodies in his backyard for years without the neighbors noticing. If you see something strange or out of the ordinary and it makes you nervous–whether it be a door to a movie theater being propped up or just a weird feeling in the air (this happened to me once. I ducked into an apartment building and called my boyfriend. For some strange reason I was terrified to walk home. He came to get me. That same night there was an armed robbery in the ground floor apartment of where I got the jitters)–don’t ignore it. Go for help, report your suspicions to the police, call 911. Maybe it’s nothing. But it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
5) Talk to your kids about how to get out of dangerous situations so they will feel empowered without being scared. Role play scenarios. Teach them not to run away from danger but to run towards safety.
6) Tell yourself whatever you need to hear to keep your courage up: God or Gaia or whatever you believe in will be beside you. With that support at your side, it’s up to you to do what you can.
We have a new tradition in our family. We hold hands and have a moment of silence before dinner every night. We will be keeping the victims and the survivors of the Colorado shootings in our thoughts.
Have you ever been the victim of an attack or a robbery? Do you have any tips to share about how you stayed safe?
Related post: Keeping middle schoolers safe
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University. She is the editor of Toddler and co-author of The Baby Bonding Book for Dads. Her new book, The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Baby Before Their Bottom Line, will be published by Scribner in April 2013. Read a Q & A with Jennifer at the Oregonian’s Oregon News Network.