At Sandy Hook Elementary, did actions such as those of Mary Ann Jacob prevent even more deaths from occurring?
Within seconds, a school secretary warned [library clerk] Jacob there was a killing machine in their midst. Then she heard the sounds of bullets flying.
“I don’t remember how many,” said Jacob, who has worked at the K-4 school for five years. “It was bang! Bang! Bang!”
Jacob coolly followed school protocol, blocking the library entrance with a file cabinet before steering the youngsters into the supply closet.
The kids, following her directions, walked inside in short order. They remained in the closet for about an hour, even as an eerie postshooting silence descended on the building before police arrived.
Many teachers and aides at Sandy Hook Elementary did something similar, and all the children thus protected seem to have lived. Their hour or more in these secret hiding places, terrorized yet trying to keep the children calm and above all quiet, must have been traumatic almost beyond description.
And it’s interesting and valuable to know that the school already had a protocol in place to deal with such attacks (although, unfortunately, it did not include having an armed guard at the entrance, which at least might have helped in this instance).
However, here’s my question, and it’s not meant to take away from the courage of the particular teachers: did their actions in fact save any lives? The reasons I wonder is that nothing I’ve read has indicated that the shooter went from room to room trying and failing to find these particular victims after he’d shot the others. It does appear that, after he went to the two kindergartens and methodically shot every single person there, he entered a first grade classroom where teacher Victoria Soto had already told her charges to hide in cupboards and closets and lied to him to protect them, telling him that the children were at the gym instead. Then he shot her, and she lost her own life.
And then at some point after that he took his own life.
But none of the other teachers seem to be reporting that he entered their classrooms while they were hiding and failed to get them. That’s not to say it didn’t happen; preliminary reports are often garbled, incomplete, or incorrect.
Why am I pursuing this question anyway? Why care? What difference does it make? My answer is: perhaps none. But I’m interested in what makes people tick; always have been. And that includes the problem of evil.
I’ve noticed a curious fact about these types of shootings: at some point the shooter[s] sometimes just stops killing others and kills himself, even though there are probably more victims to be had for the taking. Is it because he’s down to his last bit of ammunition? Or does he sense police on the way and want to avoid arrest at all costs? Or is it that for some of these shooters there’s a certain amount of killing rage that has been satisfied for the moment?
You may recall that the latter phenomenon occurred at Columbine, although initially (and if the shooters’ plans had gone as they’d hoped) the intent was to explode propane bombs in the cafeteria that would have killed over 400 students. The bombs failed to explode, and although Harris and Klebold seemed to have had a tremendous amount of homicidal energy at the beginning, at some point it began to dissipate:
After leaving the cafeteria, the duo returned to the main north and south hallways of the school, shooting aimlessly. Harris and Klebold then walked through the south hallway into the main office before returning to the north hallway. On several occasions, the pair looked through the windows of classroom doors, making eye contact with students concealed inside, but neither Harris nor Klebold attempted to enter any of the rooms. After leaving the main office, Harris and Klebold walked towards a bathroom entrance, where they taunted students who had hidden inside, making such comments as: “We know you’re in there” and “Let’s kill anyone we find in here.” Again neither attempted to enter the bathroom. At 11:55 a.m., the two returned to the cafeteria where they briefly entered the school kitchen, only to return back up the staircase and into the south hallway at 11:58 a.m.
Not long after, they killed themselves, apparently in unison.
These acts are unequivocally evil. But it almost seems as though after a while they got tired of doing so much evil. You might say it lost its charm for them; perhaps its accomplishment wasn’t quite as they’d imagined or hoped, and their destructive rage was taken over by ennui. Pity they didn’t find that out beforehand.
As for the question of, “why did the Newtown shooter choose very young children as his targets?”, my answer would be that in many such cases it’s in order to maximize the evil and the resultant horror and revulsion. Harris’s and Klebold’s choice of victims is more easy to understand although no less evil: the perps were teenagers who attended the school they attacked, and knew many of the students and teachers there. Their targets were for the most part their own peers, although they seem to have spared their friends. Lanza chose small children rather than teens, and did not seem to have known his victims or had any connection with the school (initial reports that his mother worked there appear to have been incorrect). So, why?
As time goes on and more information is revealed, I may change my mind about this, but until then my leading theory is what I’ve come to think of as the Pied Piper Impulse. I briefly referred to it here, but I’ll add that if a person is filled with inchoate rage at almost everything and everyone in the town around him, what better way to exact revenge then to kill the town’s youngest, sweetest, cutest, most beloved, and most vulnerable residents—its kindergarten children? And what better way to impress on the world what a cold-blooded and to-be-feared killer he is/(was)?
Child-killers, even serial child-killers, usually operate from very different motives than a mass killer such as Lanza. They are often pedophilic kidnapper-rapists who then murder their victims. Other single or multiple child-killers are harshly punitive parents and/or parents gone mad. But mass murderers of children often have a political agenda which we define as terrorist (for example, the Beslan horror, in which terrorists caused the death of over 300 people, many of them children of similar age as the victims in Newtown; and the shootings in Norway in which Breivik killed 77 people, most of them teenagers). Terrorists seem to operate under the Pied Piper Impulse of “get them where it hurts” in order to maximize both their leverage and the fear and grief their acts engender.
My guess is that Lanza chose his targets for similar reasons. Evil is like that.
[NOTE: I just read that Connecticut's governor reported that Lanza committed suicide "as first responders closed in." If true, that appears to conform with my question in the above post, "Or does he sense police on the way and want to avoid arrest at all costs?"]