ENGLEWOOD — Stabbing a person, creating a distraction or even throwing a basketball at someone with a gun are some survival tactics that could save lives.
“We live in some scary times,” said Deputy Cathy Duff.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s deputy spoke to a group of 60 at the Just Neighbors meeting at St. David’s Jubilee Center in Englewood last week. The group meets monthly at the church to hear a speaker and discuss community issues. Their most recent meeting addressed mass shootings, and the life-or-death decisions people can make in those situations.
“There was just a mass shooting at a bowling alley,” Duff said, referring to the Jan. 4 shooting in Torrance, California, where three people were killed and four were wounded by a gunman. “In 2017 there were 30 active shooter cases. It’s the most there was. The numbers keep rising. It keeps happening.”
Duff gave several scenarios people could encounter at a grocery store, a school, office or other public place. She said people can better protect themselves if they are aware of their surroundings, even if it’s at a church or restaurant.
“A lot of people think ‘it’s never going to happen to me,’” she said. “Those who are less-prepared for a situation, the worse it is for survival.
“Everyone in a mass shooting has to respond. If you’ve never thought what you would do, you might just freeze up. If you have run through a scenario in your head or talked it out with someone, you will be much better prepared to run, hide or fight. It doesn’t have to be in that order.”
Duff said because police officers are trained and routinely practice active-shooter drills, they use the techniques in everyday life.
“If you ever see a group of us eating at a restaurant together, you will find we fight over who has the chair with their back to the wall,” she said. “It’s because we all want to watch who is coming in the restaurant.”
Duff said using situational awareness outside of the home is imperative. She said knowing the exits at a theater, church, hospital, library, store, concert will help with an exit plan.
“If you know there’s an active shooter in a building, you can try to run into a room and barricade yourself inside,” she said. “You can push a file cabinet or desk or both against the door. You could put a chair under the door handle or tie a belt to it and then to the desk or file cabinet. You could tie something to the hinge of the door to try to keep it from opening.”
Duff said once inside a room, anticipate what to do if you know a shooter is checking door handles.
“I know I would rather fight with everything I have than be a fish in a barrel,” she said. “If I knew he was going to open the door, I would know he only had one hand on the door and a gun in the other, unless he had the gun slung across his back. I know there’s a few seconds that I could act to try to disorientate him. If he opened the door, I could stab him with a pen or pencil or throw a stapler at him if he pokes his head in the door. I would do anything to throw him off balance so I can quickly react.”
Duff mentioned a 29-year-old Indiana science teacher who threw a basketball at a student armed with two handguns. As the shooting began, the teacher hit him with the basketball. As bullets fired, the teacher tackled the student. Other students screamed and took cover. One girl was shot, but not killed.
“The teacher was shot as he swatted the gun away, but he lived and he saved his students’ lives,” she said.
The May shooting came a week after eight students and two teachers were gunned down in a school in Santa Fe, Texas.
Duff said students, teachers and anyone else can text to local police departments using 911. The practice was used after texts were unsuccessfully sent during a campus shooting in 2007. Police didn’t receive the messages. Duff said when calling or texting 911, it’s important to give as many details as possible, especially a description of clothing.
Duff said with the strange events in today’s world, residents shouldn’t be afraid to report suspicious behavior or activities.