In the midst of tragedies there are heroes, often they are the first responders. But CMPD Chief Kerr Putney said there was no bigger hero in Tuesday night’s shooting than 21-year-old UNC Charlotte student Riley Howell.
“He took the fight to the assailant and, um, he unfortunately had to give his life to do so but he saved lives doing so,” said Putney.
University of North Carolina Charlotte Chancellor Philip Dubois says another measure that likely saved lives was the school's automatic lockdown system.
Every second matters in these active shooter incidents. Dubois said on WFAE’s Charlotte Talks that the campus police and CMPD quickly responded and ran towards the gunfire to take down the shooter. He also says the automated lockdown system that was activated helped keep many students safe.
“We have a system on campus whereby we can lock down most campus buildings within - with a single push of a button, and - and that worked as well,” he said. “We’re just lucky we didn’t have a much bigger tragedy, if you can think of that as luck.”
Two students, 19-year-old Ellis Reed Parlier and 21-year-old Riley Howell were shot and killed. And four others wounded. Charlotte based active shooter trainer Sergeant Chris Kopp is a former Marine and CMPD officer. He does trainings all around the country including at UNC Charlotte. Kopp heard from a UNC Charlotte faculty member who says she took one of his classes.
“I got a fantastic email yesterday from a UNCC professor that said, 'I sat through one of your classes and I wasn’t scared. I was actually empowered.' And she mentioned how they barricaded the door and how they assigned students to counter and attack a gunman if they came into the classroom,” Kopp said. “They said that they were inside the classroom for over three hours. And they even said it got to the point they said ok if you need to use the bathroom we’re going to designate this corner as the bathroom. They were prepared for the long haul. But they were prepared and it almost brings goosebumps on my arm right now.”
Kopp said after shootings like this he always gets more calls for training. In fact, WFAE took his active shooter training last year. Many people don’t think the shooting will happen to them, Kopp said, until it does.
He’s an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where a shooting last year left 17 dead. In his trainings he emphasizes putting obstacles in front of the gunman.
“These shooters know the clock is ticking. They know that law enforcement's coming. And, you know, when their main objective is to hurt as many people as possible, they don’t have time to spend trying to unlock a door or a barricade. They move on,” he said. “So if they check a door handle and the door is locked then the gunman is going to move on. And I use one statistic that, hands down, I love is the fact that no active shooter, no workplace violence involving a gun has a shooter, a man with a gun, ever breached a locked door.”
Kopp recommends the one touch lockdown systems like UNCC employed yesterday. They have become more common in the wake of recent mass shootings. Lee Mandel is CEO of IntraLogic Solutions which makes one of those systems. His company created it after a gunman killed 28 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Since 2013 his company has installed the system in 2,000 facilities around the country, he says.
“We realized that seconds truly did matter in getting first responders to the scene quickly,” Mandel said. “So we came up with a solution that automates the process, takes the guesswork out of what you do during a lockdown so we can speed up the process.”
Mandel said there are multiple ways to activate the system: a button on a wall or desk, or on a phone or computer. Mandel’s system completes a lockdown within three to five seconds.
“We work with electronic technology. If the schools are using card access to swipe into the doors,” Mandel said. “We’ll shut down that access so that someone from the outside can’t get it. It just automates that process tremendously.”
Although the locks prevent someone from entering, they still allow people on the inside to open the door if they need to let someone in. A UNC Charlotte student who identified himself as Matthew said on WFAEs Charlotte Talks Wednesday morning that’s what happened in the computer lab when the lock went into effect.
“We saw people banging on the doors and we let them in because we were like ‘get inside, we’re not letting you guys just be outside in a not locked building’,” Matthew said. “And were there for a couple of hours before cops came by and let them out.”
Matthew said he is happy the lockdown system was in place. UNC Charlotte Chancellor Dubois said at a Wednesday afternoon press conference as long as the school has an open campus there’s a risk of an active shooting.