Could a student ever "get away" with a school shooting?

Bit hypocritical of me to have rolled my eyes at a billion clone threads on every forum I read this week about You-Know-What, but this is a different type of thread. Before we go any further, I want to lay some ground rules I hope we can all follow:

[ul][li]This thread is hypothetical.[/li][li]This thread is not about any particular incident, regardless of what actual events end up being referenced.[/li][li]This thread is dispassionate in the hopes of not letting our sympathies and worries effect our opinions on this, again hypothetical situation. It’s not a cold or disrespectful thread or meant to gloss over anything in any way. We all know this is a grim subject, but we don’t need to mention that in every post and it’s not disrespectful to refrain from doing so.[/li][li]PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE LEAVE POLITICS AND YOUR VIEWS ON GUNS OUT OF THIS![/ul][/li]
What prompted this thread is that over the course of the last week I started thinking about one of the very few silver linings of recent (let’s say last 20 years) school shootings, and that silver lining is that the perpetrator (or perpetrators) in every major or notable school shooting are always caught and/or killed. The fact that someone like Kip Kinkel is currently in jail and not dead is very much the exception to the rule. We can all find odd and random cases on Wikipedia if we want to but I think it’s fair to say that school shooters on the level of Columbine or thereabouts generally don’t get away with what they’ve done. The crime doesn’t go unsolved.

Why this is so seems simple enough - people who take guns into schools don’t ever seem to have any intention of coming out alive. Whether they intend to suicide-by-cop or whether they in their minds they just want to kill themselves and take as many people with them isn’t really relevant to this discussion, the fact of the matter is that they typically don’t get away.

The chilling part of this, and what made me create this thread, is the fear that we have simply been lucky in this respect: that the majority of these attacks are done by people intending to kill themselves too, or so out of their minds they aren’t capable of any real escape. But is that just luck? In this day and age, could it even be possible for someone to shoot up a school and for us to see on the news that night that the killer is in the breeze and no one’s completely sure who did it?

I’d be interested to get some thoughts on whether this is something that could actually happen, and what could be done to prevent it. “Get away” in the thread title does not refer to a light sentencing for a student who shot someone with a history of beating them up, I’m talking get away as in could we ever see a school shooting be an unsolved crime?

So there’s a thousand questions I’m wondering about all of this, beyond “could it happen?”. Is any teenager (or group of them) smart enough to have an escape plan? What would that plan be? Any kid smart enough to figure out how to build bombs or other weaponry would presumably be smart enough to figure out how to get out of the building once he’s done whatever horrible shit he was planning (is the school’s basement connected to the sewers or something similar? I went to an elementary school that was on the same block as a middle school, and they were connected by several underground tunnels linking bomb shelters, for example). Is any kid disturbed enough to try and do something that horrible likely to have the mental strength to live on the run, assuming he can get away at all? Is the fact that everyone has an internet connection in their pocket the best defence against this, since police are likely to arrive in time to prevent any escape?

I think this is an interesting side topic in the wake of a thousand threads on what happened in Connecticut. Please understand I’m not trying to anger or upset anyone, and I do not want anyone that posts in this thread to have read the above like what I’m asking is “So if you wanted to kill all the kids at your school and get off Scot free, how would you do it?” That’s not what this thread is about. I’m simply curious to whether or not we’ve really been quite lucky so far with these kinds of tragedies that the guilty party is almost always if not always always killed or captured. Could this ever happen? What could be done to make sure it never does? What are the variables? Is this less possible in 2012 than 1992, or more possible? What are your arguments? If it did happen, what would the response from law enforcement be? How would it differ to that of what we might call normal murder (someone shot in their own home or in an alley, say)?

Anyone who wants to chip in their thoughts is welcome to it, and I put this thread in IMHO because that’s what it’s about, opinions. Please, let’s be adults here, and try not to be too sensitive about theoretical things. If someone comes up with a way it could happen, the proper response is to come up with a solution to preventing it from happening, not to get angry. This is not Gun Nuts vs. Bleeding Hearts, there is no scoreboard. We all win when we have an intriguing discussion, we all lose when we fight and argue and get upset. Don’t be shy, let’s just get an interesting discussion going, since we’re all on the same side here.

Didn’t the guys at Columbine originally have a vague sense of an “escape” plan? In any case, I don’t know that you can clearly delineate the thinking involved with these acts to the point where you can make a taxonomy of the motives in the way you’re trying to above. You’re conflating two different kinds of crime. In this sense, we’re not really “lucky” at all that these are all suicide acts, because then the killing seems to become unhinged from any sense of its actual consequences. That’s the whole problem–these guys are just living out a first-person shooter video game, where “escape” isn’t even an issue. Then it gets to the point where they can’t reconcile the video game with reality, and it becomes an existential meltdown, where the only option is suicide.

In fact, this conflation is one of the more annoying aspects of the typical media coverage.

Speaking of luck I’m always surprised the body counts aren’t higher. A typical class size in my experience is around 25-30, and he didn’t get more than that. There’s no where to run, the best you can do is jump out a window, cover up behind a desk, or charge the perp (which hardly ever seems to happen). I don’t know how long they have before the police arrive (5-15 mins?) but it seems like there should be enough time to visit multiple classrooms. I’m surprised the casualties for school shootings aren’t in the 80-120 range instead of the usual 5-15.

The worst case scenario where they get away would be a more ruthless version of the Washington sniper from a couple years ago. Be mobile, get a position in the woods or use the trunk solution, then snipe the kids at bus stops, during recess, PE class, after school practice, when they arrive/leave school, etc. and then slink away and go somewhere else the next time.

Y’know, mention of the Washington snipers and the Columbine shooters makes me wonder: imagine you’re a demented youth out to kill lots of classmates, and just like Klebold or Harris you hook up with a Harris or a Klebold. So there you both are, hunkered down in your black trenchcoats, shooting kids who’ve obligingly marched out single file for the fire drill or whatever – when suddenly your partner in crime puts a bullet in your head and the pistol in your gunpowder-residue-coated hand.

Could he get away?

I’m not. Most of these guys can’t shoot worth shit. (The most recent maniac is an exception to that general rule.) They don’t know how to aim well, and don’t know how to clear the gun if a jam occurs. And people tend to start running away when someone’s shooting at them.

As for them getting away - well, the police tend to take murder very seriously. This is exactly the sort of crime which gets the most intensive investigation the police are capable of mounting. And these guys are shooting up places with security cameras in place. And most of the time, they’re a student at that school, so some of the survivors are likely to recognize them. So I can’t imagine that they’d get away with the crime, even if they managed to successfully flee from the school grounds.

Like most crimes, I think it is possible with much research, preparation and planning for someone to “get away with it.” We have and will probably always have unsolved murders. I don’t think it’s probable given the mental state of many of these killers however.

This reminds me of the movie “Rampage”.

I think the motivation is an important factor. My understanding of the psychology of spree killers like this is that their plan is not really to kill a bunch of people and then die themselves too. What they’re planning is to die in a spectacular fashion with killing a bunch of other people too. To these people it’s their death that’s the central event and all those other deaths are subsidiary - they only kill other people to get the public’s attention so that their death will be noticed.

So they don’t generally have a motivation to try to escape alive - to their mind, this would be skipping the main event. If they don’t die at the end, then all those other deaths served no purpose. And by the same token, they have no real motive to prolong the shooting of other people. Doing so just delays what they see as the real reason why they’re there, which is to stage their own death.

To give some equivalent examples, a spree killer shooting other people is like a robber breaking into a bank vault or a rapist abducting his victim. They’re not really interested in these supporting crimes - these are just necessary crimes they have to commit to get to the crime they’re interested in (stealing money or committing rape).

That’s a very insightful observation, Little Nemo. And it goes a long way to explaining why these killers can so easily murder a roomful of total strangers. They’re not seeing people, they’re seeing animated stage props.

Very interesting so far, thanks for treating this seriously.

I would have to say no, its too hard to get away with such a thing. Even if the school was in some remote area, there are just going to be too many witnesses. Many schools have security cameras and unless you came in masked, they’ll get a person’s face pretty quickly.

The best way I can come up with is if the school is an adult school and the shooting’s done at night. It would have to be a remote school, and the shooter couldn’t drive there, too much of a footprint to leave a car at the scene. So hike there from the woods, burst in with a mask and shoot a bunch of people, but leave within 10 minutes and run back into the woods. Even then, they’d probably shut down every road and bridge looking for you, so make sure that the guns are stolen so there’s no trail to you. Drop off the weapons at the scene somewhere and make sure there’s no blood or anything on your body. Then when you make it back to your car, drive straight to Mexico and never look back

I have to point out that I’m no forensics expert. I’m amazed that within hours of 9/11, or a bombing like Oklahoma City, they had suspects already in mind. The kind where a school gets shot up and the perp escapes would have to be someone completely unconnected with the school. If you ever went to the school, worked there, or had a relative there, then that’s one more thing the cops can use to trace you. Shoot up a completely unconnected school at least a hundred miles away from where you live, then ditch all the weapons. This will still probably require a lot of luck to get away with

I’m going to say that the chances are low in that the victims generally know the shooter by name.

When I read the OP what popped into my mind was someone barreling in while they were supposed to be in class (perhaps having excused themselves to the bathroom from class) with some kind of heavy outer clothing and a mask, shooting up the school, then ducking into a bathroom or something, shedding outerwear and weapons, and then pretending to be a frightened hiding student? Maybe? I dunno. It would take diamond-heist level planning, I suppose.

I don’t agree that the shooters are “living out a first-person shooter video game.” Are you making some circumspect claim about the culpability of video games in mass shootings?

On another note, I found the book “Columbine” by Dave Cullen interesting. It goes into much more detail than we saw in the media. Harris and Klebold’s plan went completely wrong almost from the start. We should be thankful that it did, as they would almost certainly have killed many more otherwise.

What if there were more than a couple or a few? What if there were six to ten people that devised the plan together? Would it be easier to get away in that case, or would it possibly be harder for them to get away with it?

In the most recent case - the shoooter blended in with the students and left the building - went and had lunch and was found later. (45 mins, but…)

Had he been inclined - you can be quite a good distance away and functionally disappear with that amount of a head start. Sure, I think they would have known the ‘who’, but finding them may prove to be difficult (again, if the person was so inclined).

Right. He technically escaped the scene of the crime. If the kid had been Lex Luthor’s kid, aka the child of someone with unlimited resources and no morality, in theory the kid could have escaped with outside help. And if he could then escape to some country where there’s no extradition or just disguise his face, he might get away with it.

If the shooter had worn a mask, and outer clothing, in theory the shooter could have doffed the mask and switched his outer clothing color. Problem is that schools have so many cameras that it would have been possible to go frame by frame and find him doing this.

The next problem is that even without the cameras (maybe the shooter shot the school’s DVR), the gun and outer clothing he shed and all the other stuff he left would have skin oil on it and sweat and shed skin cells. These days we don’t even need a complete fingerprint, this is more than enough to get a solid DNA sample. At which point, I think there would be probable cause to take DNA samples from every current and former student of the school and every other suspect, and find out who did it.

There are other ways authorities could solve the crime. Who sold the gun? (based on serial number). Did the store have a security camera?

Say he used a machine shop to make the gun or a Ghost Gunner. Does anyone in his town have that equipment?

It just seems like there are near unlimited electronic records, witnesses, and bits of DNA the criminal would have left behind. A mere robbery or bit of vandalism, yeah, they aren’t going to actually chase down every lead, exhaustively. But something like this?

The FBI would exhaust every lead. They would search for years and spend tens of millions of dollars if they had to.

I think the “Trunk sniper” style shooting could work, because all the evidence of the crime but the bullet was trapped in the trunk, and in theory the shooter could then dispose of the car (which would be stolen, of course) with a high temperature fire and eliminate all traces of DNA and other evidence.

But damn, these days, there would still be cell phone location records. Where did the trunk sniper get out to refill on gas?

Another issue is motive chains. If the kid is sniping from a trunk and is getting revenge on people from that specific school, his name is now going to be on a list of however many kids the schooled expelled that year. It’s a heck of a lot easier to find a criminal if you have a list of 10-20 names to start with.

Part of the reason the DC snipers got away with it so long was they were firing on completely random victims. And they were firing from hundreds of meters away, with a relatively quiet weapon. And then after shooting just one or two victims, they’d drive away and fire on someone else in a totally different place. The authorities couldn’t even identify correctly which vehicle the shots were being fired from, because humans have poor distance sound localization, and I guess the flash suppressor was pretty good. Eventually they were caught because they essentially gave the authorities a return address by demanding ransom money.

Not sure if this is what the OP means, but it could be very doable as long as the student doesn’t shoot up his *own *school, and especially not during regular school hours. He could snipe up the crowd at a high school football game from afar, or a weekend event.

I hope future shooters don’t read this :eek:

none of this is new or new(s) - I would say that all of the school shootings have a localized anger/mistreatment/revenge angle to them that ‘blinds’ the perp as to how to ‘get away with it’ = they simply don’t want to - in this case, the perp kept saying he was going to be “famous school shooter” ,etc.