Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Bravest Person in the Room

Was Ginger Littleton, the Panama City school board member who tried to fight back...

This week's hostage drama at the Bay City School Board meeting on Tuesday evening was illustrative in many ways - most of them bad.  There were examples of profound denial, lack of situational awareness, failure to take control of the scene, persons taking inappropriate action, the consequences of inaction, and one case of courageous action.

Clay Duke, the gun-wielding hostage-taker was clearly disordered.  He had a history of violence, criminality, and mental health issues.  His back story will no doubt be done to death, in lurid and ill-considered detail, by a sensation-seeking media in the days and weeks to come.  Perhaps we'll even learn why he still possessed firearms. 

When the board and attendees of the meeting noticed that Duke had a gun there were several reactions.  Some immediately fled the room.  Some immediately "ducked and covered" - within sight of the gunman!  Some remained in their seats, as though awaiting further instructions.  When told by Duke to leave, those remaining stood up, collected their things, lined up, and left the room without so much as a backward glance.

Security Officer Mike Jones, retired cop and former school board member, entered the room early in the incident and asked Duke, "Is that a real gun?"  He left the room "to get more ammo," he explained later.  Jones returned as Clay began shooting and engaged him with pistol fire.  Depending on which story we read, Clay was struck once in the leg or three times in the back.  Clay fell to the floor and shot himself in the head.

Superintendent Bill Husfelt complied with Duke's instructions, excusing the audience and the female members of the Board.  He attempted to negotiate with Clay.  He attempted to trade his life for the release of the others.  He admitted he had signed the paperwork terminating Clay's wife without knowing her, the details of her case, or even what he was signing.  When Duke pointed his gun at Husfelt the superintendent resorted to begging and pleading not to be shot.  When Duke fired two shots Husfelt clutched at his chest and fell from his chair.  He had not been hit, but he collapsed.  Husfelt credits God with saving his life - not Mike Jones.  He apparently does not credit his God with putting him in harm's way in the first place.

One school board member joined in the arguing, pleading, and begging.  He also fell sideways from his chair when the bullets began to fly, looking very much like he'd been shot.  Four other male members of the school board sat in stunned silence throughout the entire incident.

But the most interesting moment in the video - seen only in the long version - is when Ginger Littleton, a school board member who had been granted safe passage by Clay, sneaked back into the room behind him and attempted to knock the gun from his hand with a blow from her large purse.  Her attempt failed.  She was knocked to the floor by Clay, who swore at her, but again let her leave unharmed.  If the male school board members had joined her attack Clay might have been disarmed.  If only she'd had pistol in that purse this crisis might have ended before it got rolling...

Even if you are unarmed there are several ways to deal with an armed hostage taker; you can run, you can summon help, you can hide, you can bar the door, and when all else fails you can fight back, with your bare hands - or your purse - if necessary.  But if you spend your last moments begging for your life you most likely passed up these better options and gave all the decisions to your killer.

A selfless act taken at risk to oneself in service of others is bravery in my book.  Nice try, Ginger!