A history of violence 

Can Missoula public schools truly be prepared for a school shooting?

Page 4 of 4

This is what active resistance training looks like, and it is not a joke. One of the course's chief purposes is to prepare participants for the physiological effect of a real encounter with an armed intruder. Stress inoculation is essential to the course, says Missoula County Sheriff's Capt. Brad Giffin, who's been volunteering his time to lead active resistance trainings. "It's one thing to talk about it," he says, "but it's a whole other thing to put them under that stress and see how they perform."

To drive home the point, trainees are offered to check their heart rate before a simulation, and again immediately following its completion. One of the women who acted as a link in the human doorstop reported that her rate was between 60 and 75 beats per minute before shots were fired. After, it was 200.

Giffin admits the training may seem unorthodox. "It's kind of taboo, to tell you the truth. It's dangerous training," he says. "People get hurt doing it." But he also believes ardently in the cause. "Statistically speaking, in an active shooter situation someone dies every 15 seconds. The whole situation is over in three to four minutes. Municipal police response time is five to seven minutes. County sheriff might get there in seven to 20 minutes. The math just isn't on our side," he says. "My opinion is, you focus on the real first responders who actually have to deal with things before police get there."

There were 24 trainees at the Lewis and Clark course, including a school therapist, a culinary arts teacher, a football coach and a receptionist. Gene Oliver, a guidance counselor, found the training to be "very valuable." He says he is generally a pacifist, and though his legs shook while he was taught to disarm a gunman by hitting him over the head with the barrel of his own weapon, Oliver says the experience was eye-opening. "I realized that we do all these drills like the lockdown, but then that's it. It really hit me that we're passive and we've never really talked about that."

The active resistance trainings have been the most reported-upon and publicized change so far implemented by the public safety task force. And while it has been universally well-received by the people who have taken the class, it is a decidedly reactionary measure. What about prevention?

Carol Ewen works for MCPS as the Response to Intervention Specialist, and has been a leader in pushing the task force's mental health committee forward. The most significant change her committee hopes to enforce involves fully integrating all MCPS schools with the Montana Behavioral Initiative, a broad-reaching system that works to identify at-risk children and expeditiously provide them with support. The system is already in place in some elementary schools, but she hopes it won't be long before the program is ubiquitous.

She believes the recommendations of the safety and security committee, including the hiring of a security officer, are valid, but she wonders if society places too much emphasis on reaction rather than prevention. "I think it's important. I don't think we should take things like active resistance training away," she says. "But I think we as a community need to recognize that we need to invest as much in training teachers to recognize mental illness and prevent problems before they happen."

She says there are lots of kids in the Missoula school system with challenging lives, and some of them act out in a class and test the patience of the teacher. "To think about what that child woke up to in the morning, and it's just a miracle they showed up to school at all," she says. "I think sometimes we do forget about that."

Oliver echoes the sentiment. He appreciated his resistance training, but he says it's also important to remember that as a society "we're woefully lacking in support and staffing for high-needs, at-risk, aggressive kids."

He's also willing to imagine the implications of training teachers to take down armed bad guys—to wonder what steps might be taken next.

Just the other week, he says, he was walking to his office with a student who struggled with emotional trauma. They saw a school resource officer standing in the hallway. Most children are titillated by the sight of badges and uniforms and gadget belts, he says, but this student panicked and hid behind Oliver. The student asked him what the guy was doing? Oliver said he was a policeman, a good guy, but the student continued to hide and began hyperventilating.

"Bad things have happened in [that student's] life, and that was a huge trigger ...," he says. "I think about those kinds of things."

At the end of the 1992 "Primetime Live" story, Diane Sawyer interviews Kristofor Hans at the Montana State Prison in Deer Lodge. Kris is 20, with sandy blond hair swept to one side. He wears big glasses. He speaks slowly and quietly about his crime. "It was like a dream," he says. "It was like none of it was really happening."

click to enlarge Kristofor Hans is currently in the Warm Springs Addiction Treatment and Change program, or WATCh, and is scheduled to enter a Missoula pre-release facility in June. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MT DEPT. OF CORRECTIONS
  • photo courtesy of MT Dept. of Corrections
  • Kristofor Hans is currently in the Warm Springs Addiction Treatment and Change program, or WATCh, and is scheduled to enter a Missoula pre-release facility in June.

Sawyer then asks Kris if he wants to say anything to his victims and their families. He begins to cry and removes his glasses. "I want to tell them I'm sorry," he says. Sawyer then tells him John Moffatt is in the next room, and that he came because "he wants you to be all right."

When Moffatt comes through the door, Kris breaks down.

The conversation between the two men was not aired. Moffatt says they spent about 30 minutes together and that Kris was inconsolable. "Probably two- thirds of that time, I ended up just holding him," he says. "[Kris] was sobbing."

After Moffatt recovered from the gunshot wound and four subsequent surgeries, he became the principal at Garfield Elementary in Lewistown, a position he held until retiring in 2010.

Today, he and his wife, Maggie, live in Missoula, and Moffatt occasionally substitutes for MCPS. He applauds the district's efforts to address difficult issues, and he says he's "for anything that schools do to make the environment safer for kids." But, in his mind, any district can only achieve so much as long as gun laws remain the same. He points out that homicide is now the second leading cause of death for school-age Americans, and while school shootings are "horrific tragedies," homicides on school grounds account for less than 2 percent of the lives lost.

"Some people think it always happens somewhere else, others think it's going to happen anytime," he says of school shootings, "but we need to look at the big picture. There are relatively few communities in the United States that have dealt with a school shooting ... But there are very few communities that have not lost a child to gun violence."

More than 25 years after he shot Moffatt and Smith, Kristofor Hans also has thoughts about school safety and what could have curbed the trajectory of his young life. In February 2013, before he was transferred from Montana State Prison to a treatment-based facility in Warm Springs, a reporter from the Montana Television Network interviewed Kris. He wore a black shirt and a black ball cap and glasses, though markedly smaller than those he wore for the ABC interview. Kris is middle-aged, and when he talks about what he did and why he did it, he speaks with the assuredness of a man who has had time to reckon his mistakes.

"I had read this story called Rage by Stephen King, and I don't know if you've heard but that's been associated with other school shootings. I got the idea that if I carried out this act that the same things would happen to me that happened to the character in the story," he says, "which is that in the end he got approval from his peers."

Kris goes on to say that he wishes there had been a way to stop him. "But I think the only way to stop me would've been something earlier, something in the prevention phase," he says.

Kris declined to be interviewed for this story. He is currently in the Warm Springs Addiction Treatment and Change program, or WATCh, and is scheduled to enter a Missoula pre-release facility in June. If he serves a year at the pre-release facility without incident, he can be set free.

In 1988, at Kris' initial sentencing hearing, the first person called to the stand was Shannon Foucher, the classmate who agreed to be his hostage. She admitted to the court that Kris had told her about the plan in science class a few days before the shooting. Kris had told her to read Chapter 9 of Rage.

When asked why she didn't stop him, why she didn't tell anyone, Foucher told the court, "I didn't really know. I just—you know, I didn't really believe it."

Chapter 9 is a quarter page long, and opens with Mrs. Underwood, the algebra teacher, standing at the blackboard, addressing her class. Just before she looks up and sees Charlie Decker, just before he shoots and kills her, she gives her last lesson.

"... So you understand that when we increase the number of variables,'" she says, "the axioms themselves never change..."

Then she looks to the back of the room and asks Decker if he has a hall pass.

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