There are certain days in life that you never forget. For me, one of those days was April 18, 1990.
That day, Mike, a classmate at Brick Township High School, snuck into the school through an unlocked stairwell entrance carrying a guitar case and a gym bag. In that guitar case was a loaded shotgun that he used to order our history teacher, Paula Niven, out of the classroom, as he announced that he didn’t want to go to school anymore.
Niven did not give up easily, but eventually — wisely in my view — ceded control of the classroom.
After Niven left the room, Mike told us he didn’t intend to hurt anyone. He just wanted to scare the teacher. We weren’t in a panic. There was calm about the room, probably because we were 14 or 15 years old and did not really process the implications of what was going on. I think most of us believed him.
The odds of confronting an active shooter are low, much like the odds of being involved in a plane crash. But every time we fly we’re told where the exits are, that our seat cushion may be used as a flotation device and how to secure the oxygen mask to our face.
It is with these same precautions in mind that Rider Public Safety and the President’s Office have developed a program to inform students, faculty and staff of what they can do if they were ever faced with an intruder.
Recently, with The Rider News staff, I went through a training session conducted by Public Safety Director Vickie Weaver and coordinator Frank Scharibone. As they showed a well-made video created on a campus that looks a lot like Rider, and led an enlightening discussion, I couldn’t help but think about that disturbing morning in my high school history class.
Mike asked for the blinds to be lowered and demanded that people move away from the windows. At that point, in my mind, things got real. Next, he asked for an armoire-type cabinet that held school supplies to be moved in front of the door.
He selected a group of students to move the case. They were quick thinkers. They told him it was bolted to the wall. It wasn’t, but he never challenged them. That left a vital opening for the eventual defusing of the situation.
Mike had begun negotiations with Joseph Tomaselli, the vice principal. Mike wanted food and Tomaselli wanted some of us released. As Mike leaned back in Niven’s chair and clasped his hands behind his head with the gun lying against the teacher’s desk, Tomaselli saw his chance to act. He charged Mike and tackled him to the ground, while other administrators rushed in and subdued him.
This all flooded back to me when I was learning about active shooters, people who are engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area. In recent years these actions have been on the rise, making it all the more important for individuals to have an idea of what to do in these situations.
Being alert and aware of your surroundings is huge. Know the building you are in, whether it’s an academic building, a shopping mall, a movie theater or any other building. Simply take a look around and know the alternative exits; it could save your life.
When police arrive on the scene, it is very important to follow their instructions. Show them your hands and spread your fingers. Everyone will be treated as a potential threat until deemed otherwise. Do not run toward officers. The first priority of police on the scene is to neutralize the threat.
There’s a huge difference between what happened to me at Brick Township High School and what happened at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson and most recently, Sandy Hook. Nobody died at Brick. We were lucky.
Despite this experience, I am a firm believer in the Second Amendment; people do have a right to keep and bear arms, but there should be limitations. I don’t see the need for civilians to have assault weapons. Anyone buying a gun should be forced to undergo a background check — no exceptions.
There is a wealth of information available from the training being offered by Public Safety. The sessions are offered to student groups and organizations, faculty and staff. I highly recommend the training: It’s better to have the information and never need it, rather than be in a situation and not know what to do.
Groups interested in scheduling a training session can contact Weaver, at (609) 896-5029.
Senior journalism major
Printed in the 5/3/13 edition.