Wednesday, April 18, 2007
When mass killers meet armed resistance.
It took place at a university in Virginia. A student with a grudge, an immigrant, pulled a gun and went on a shooting spree. It wasn’t Virginia Tech at all. It was the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, not far away. You can easily drive from the one school to the other, just take a trip down Route 460 through Tazewell.
It was January 16, 2002 when Peter Odighizuwa came to campus. He had been suspended due to failing grades. Odighizuwa was angry and waving a gun calling on students to “come get me”. The students, seeing the gun, ran. A shooting spree started almost immediately. In seconds Odighizuwa had killed the school dean, a professor and one student. Three other students were shot as well, one in the chest, one in the stomach and one in the throat.
Many students heard the shots. Two who did were Mikael Gross and Tracy Bridges. Mikael was outside the school having just returned to campus from lunch when he heard the shots. Tracy was inside attending class. Both immediately ran to their cars. Each had a handgun locked in the vehicle.
Bridges pulled a .357 Magnum pistol and he later said he was prepared to shoot to kill if necessary. He and Gross both approached Odighizuwa at the same time from different directions. Both were pointing their weapons at him. Bridges yelled for Odighizuwa to drop his weapon. When the shooter realized they had the drop on him he threw his weapon down. A third student, unarmed, Ted Besen, approached the killer and was physically attacked.
But Odighizuwa was now disarmed. The three students were able to restrain him and held him for the police. Odighizuwa is now in prison for the murders he committed. His killing spree ended when he faced two students with weapons. There would be no further victims that day, thanks to armed resistance.
You wouldn’t know much about that though. Do you wonder why? The media, though it widely reported the attack left out the fact that Bridges and Gross were armed. Most simply reported that the gunman was jumped and subdued by other students. That two of those students were now armed didn’t get a mention.
James Eaves-Johnson wrote about this fact one week later in The Daily Iowan. He wrote: “A Lexus-Nexis search revealed 88 stories on the topic, of which only two mentioned that either Bridges or Gross was armed.” This 2002 article noted “This was a very public shooting with a lot of media coverage.” But the media left out information showing how two students with firearms ended the killing spree.
He also mentioned a second incident. And while I had read many articles on this shooting for an article I wrote about school bullying not a single one mentioned the role that a firearm played in stopping it. Until today I didn’t know the full story.
Luke Woodham was a troubled teen. He felt no one really liked him. In 1997 he murdered his mother and put on a trench coat. He filled the pockets with ammunition and took a handgun to the Pearl High School in Pearl, Mississippi. In rapid succession killed two students and wounded seven others.
He had the incident planned out. He would start shooting students and continue until he heard police sirens in the distance. That would allow him time to get in his car and leave campus. From there he intended to go to the nearby Pearl Junior High School and start shooting again. How it would end was not clear. Perhaps he would kill himself or perhaps the police would finally catch up with him and kill him. Either way a lot more people were going to get shot and die.
What Woodham hadn’t planned for was the actions of Assistant Principal Joel Myrick. Myrick heard the gun shots. He couldn’t have a handgun in the school. But he did keep one locked in his vehicle in the parking lot. He ran outside and retrieved the gun.
As Myrick headed back toward the school Woodham was in his vehicle headed for his next intended target. Myrick aimed his gun at the shooter. The teen crashed his car when he saw the gun. Myrick approached the car and held a gun to the killer who surrendered immediately. There would be no further victims that day, thanks to armed resistance.
So you didn’t know about that. Neither did I until today. Eaves-Johnson wrote that there were “687 articles on the school shooting in Pearl, Miss. Of those, only 19 mentioned that” Myrick had used a gun to stop Woodham “four-and-a-half minutes before police arrived.”
Many people probably forgot about the shooting in Edinboro, Pennsylvania. It was a school graduation dance that Andrew Wurst entered to take out his anger on the school. First he shot teacher John Gillette outside. He started shooting randomly inside the restaurant where the 240 students had gathered.
It was restaurant owner James Strand, armed with a shot gun, who captured the shooter and held him for police. There would be no further victims that day, thanks to armed resistance.
It was February 12th of this year that a young man entered the Trolley Square Shopping Mall, in Salt Lake City. The mall was a self-declared “gun free zone” forbidding patrons from carrying weapons. He wasn’t worried. In fact he appreciated knowing that his victims couldn’t defend themselves.
He opened fire even before he got inside killing his first victims immediately outside the front door. As he walked down the mall hallway he fired in all directions. Several more people were shot inside a card store immediately inside the mall. The shooter moved on to the Pottery Barns Kids store.
What he didn’t know is that one patron of the mall, Kenneth Hammond, had ignored the signs informing patrons they must be unarmed to enter. He was a police officer but he was not on duty and he was not a police officer for Salt Lake City. By all standards he was a civilian that day and probably should have left his firearm in his vehicle.
It’s a good thing he didn’t. He was sitting in the mall with his wife having dinner when he heard the shots. He told her to hide and to call 911 emergency services. He went to confront the gunman. The killer found himself under gun fire much sooner than he anticipated. From this point on all his effort was to protect himself from Hammond, he had no time to kill anyone else. Hammond was able to pin down the shooter until police finally arrived and one of them shot the man to death. There would be no further victims that day, thanks to armed resistance.
In each of these cases a killer is stopped the moment he faces armed resistance. It is clear that in three of these cases the shooter intended to continue his killing spree. In the fourth case, Andrew Wurst, it is not immediately apparent whether he intended to keep shooting or not since he was apprehended by the restaurant owner leaving the scene.
Three of these cases involved armed resistance by students, faculty or civilians. In one case the armed resistance was from an off-duty police officer in a city where he had no legal authority and where he was carrying his weapon in violation of the mall’s gun free policy.
What would have happened if these people waited for the police? In three cases the shooters were apprehended before the police arrived because of armed civilians. At Trolley Square the shooter was kept busy by Hammond until the police arrived. In all four cases the local police were the Johnny-come-latelys.
Consider the horrific events at Virginia Tech. Again an armed man enters a “gun free zone”. He kills two victims and walks away long before the police arrive. He spends two hours on campus, doing what is unknown. He then enters another building on campus and begins shooting. He never encounters a police officer during this. And all the students and faculty present had apparently complied with the “no gun” policy of the university. So no one stopped him. NO ONE STOPPED HIM! And when he finished his shooting spree 32 people were dead. It was the killer who ended the spree. He took his own life and when the police arrived all they dealt with were the dead.
There were many further victims that day. The shooter never met with armed resistance.