On February 14, 2018, Officer George was working patrol with his local PD. He’d met some fellow officers for lunch. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then he heard the radio traffic: shots fired at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He immediately headed to the campus. This is Officer George’s story of responding to one of the most horrific school shootings in American history. One that would come to be known simply as “Parkland.”
The Detective: Officer George has lived in South Florida his entire life. He’s a graduate of the University of Central Florida, where he played baseball. He moved on to the minor leagues and met Detective Dan, also a professional minor league player. After baseball, he decided in his mid-30s to become a police officer. He worked 5 years as a patrol officer in one jurisdiction and joined the SWAT team there, and then moved to Coral Springs, where he worked an additional 5 years. George retired from law enforcement in 2020. He’s married with two children.Read Transcript
Yeardley: [00:00:04] Today we’re talking to one of the officers who responded to the horrific school shooting, now known globally by one name, Parkland. 17 people died that day. However, this episode is not a comprehensive account of everything that happened that February 14th in 2018. It is the very personal account of one officer, Officer George, who was on duty that afternoon and ran to help. At times, the action may seem a bit confusing, even disorienting. But these characteristics are a reflection of the speed and chaos of the events that George and others encountered when they arrived on campus. And how everyone, including the victims, were forced to respond in split seconds to the unimaginable. I want to warn you that this episode includes some graphic details of sights and sounds, including descriptions of the death of high school aged kids. Here is Parkland Part 1.
George: [00:01:11] You’re just trying to do a job.[background police noises]
George: [00:01:15] I was pretty clear what was around me. I can see students coming out.[in background]
[00:01:20] We’re monitoring the subject right now.
George: [00:01:23] But that point, you’re 100% focused on a problem and the job. And our job was to find this guy if he’s in the building.[Small Town Dicks intro]
Yeardley: [00:01:30] Hi, there. I’m Yeardley.
Dan: [00:01:31] I’m Dan.
Dave: [00:01:32] I’m Dave.
Paul: [00:01:33] And I’m Paul.
Yeardley: [00:01:35] And this is Small Town Dicks.
Dan: [00:01:37] Dave and I are identical twins and retired detectives from Small Town, USA.
Paul: [00:01:41] And I’m a veteran cold case investigator who helped catch the Golden State killer using a revolutionary DNA tool.
Dan: [00:01:47] Between the three of us, we’ve investigated thousands of crimes, from petty theft to sexual assault, child abuse to murder.
Dave: [00:01:54] Each case we cover is told by the detective who investigated it, offering a rare personal account of how they solved the crime.
Paul: [00:02:01] Names, places, and certain details have been changed to protect the privacy of victims and their families.
Dan: [00:02:06] And although we’re aware that some of our listeners may be familiar with these cases, we ask you to please join us in continuing to protect the true identities of those involved.
Dave: [00:02:13] Out of respect for what they’ve been through.
In Unison: [00:02:16] Thank you.[intro ends]
Yeardley: [00:02:26] Today, on Small Town Dicks, we have the usual suspects. We have Detective Dan.
Dan: [00:02:33] Hello, team.
Yeardley: [00:02:34] Hello, you. Hello, sir. We have Detective Dave.
Dave: [00:02:38] Greetings from South Florida.
Yeardley: [00:02:40] Greetings. [laughs] We’re all in South Florida.
Dave: [00:02:43] We are.
Yeardley: [00:02:44] It’s a big field trip. It’s a big, big day.
Dave: [00:02:46] I feel that, yeah, we got the band back together.
Yeardley: [00:02:48] I know. It feels really, really good. And we are so happy to have in chair number four, the one and only, Paul Holes.
Dave: [00:02:56] Hello, everybody. It’s great to be here.
Yeardley: [00:02:57] It’s great to have you. He’s on the team now.
Dan: [00:03:01] He is. He’s batting cleanup.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:03:04] We’re so excited. And Small Town Fam, we are so pleased to welcome a new guest to the podcast, Officer George.
George: [00:03:12] Hello. Thanks for having me.
Yeardley: [00:03:13] Thank you for coming, George.
George: [00:03:15] No problem.
Yeardley: [00:03:15] I feel like we should tell our listeners that we’re here in South Florida. We’re recording in a hotel room. So, listeners, you might hear some sounds of the city. We’re here with Officer George to talk about this case, George, that you were involved in. It’s nationally known. It’s immensely tragic and it’s extraordinarily important. But before we get into that, I thought it’d be really fun for our listeners to hear how you come to sit at this table with us. You have a deep connection with Detective Dan.
George: [00:03:50] We do. We met way back in our college years playing some summer college baseball close 1995 about, we were teammates.
Yeardley: [00:03:58] I feel like baseball is the great connector in Dan’s life.
George: [00:04:03] It’s an extremely good connector. I mean, I still have a longtime friend from it. It’s just a simple game that a lot of times baseball guys spend so many hours and weeks together, you stay connected.
Dan: [00:04:14] It’s a really small world.
Yeardley: [00:04:16] I can’t tell you how many times because Dan and I have been together now eight years, we just got married. And like, “Oh, yeah, I played baseball with that guy.”
Dave: [00:04:26] Summer ball was the great connector because you get so much exposure to so many other guys, other regions of the country. Summer ball was really fun because you just grow relationships.
Yeardley: [00:04:39] For the uninitiated, just tell me briefly what summer ball is.
Dave: [00:04:43] High school and college, you play school season. So, you play for your school. And then when school is out, you play in the summer. It’s really just to get more reps and get seen.
Dan: [00:04:55] Yeah. So, you have guys from all different schools from all over the country that will play for one team. So, 23 guys from different schools end up on one team. And you really get to know guys from different regions, different conferences, even different affiliations. So, you have guys from all different kinds of levels of college baseball together on one team. And then, I played against George for a couple years in minor league baseball. And George doesn’t remember this, but George used to just get me out. He was a pitcher. While I was a position player, I wouldn’t call myself a hitter. But George used to get me out routinely.
George: [00:05:37] I had a couple of good year run there, but I don’t remember all our head-to-head battles. I remember more of our times actually playing in the summer league than our direct head-to-head battles, but connections to go way back.
Yeardley: [00:05:47] That’s so great.
Dave: [00:05:49] How did you reconnect?
George: [00:05:50] Probably through some social media connection, I imagine.
Dan: [00:05:53] Yes, it was Facebook. George has a son who played college baseball. And I remember George a couple years ago reached out to me because his son was going to be playing out in Southern California for summer ball. So, we had connected over that. And then, we just kept in touch, and just a few months ago, George and his son made a trip out to Los Angeles. And so Detective Dave, Detective Dan, George, and his son, we went to a Dodger game together.
Yeardley: [00:06:19] Cool.
George: [00:06:19] Yeah, I had a really good time and glad to hook up everybody.
Dave: [00:06:22] Dodgers, Phillies, we got to see Bryce Harper go deep.
George: [00:06:25] And I think he’s like six for eight. A lot of doubles and homeruns.[laughter]
Yeardley: [00:06:30] Paul and I are like, “Anyway.” I got nothing.
Paul: [00:06:33] I was really, really good at tee-ball, how’s that?[laughter]
Dave: [00:06:38] You’re good at a few other things, Paul.
Paul: [00:06:42] Baseball was not my sport.
Dave: [00:06:45] So, Officer George, can you give us a little bit of information about your background, how long you were in law enforcement?
George: [00:06:51] So a little bit about myself, this is Officer George speaking total of about 10 years total experience law enforcement. When this incident took place, it was right about eight years into total law enforcement. Five years at a previous agency and I end up doing five years at the agency where the incident occurred. My day started actually a little bit differently though that day. My previous agency that I worked for, they were in town. We have a nice shooting range, so they were there training. So, I stopped by there in the morning, chitchat with those guys a little bit. So, I hung out with them, did some lunch, and then my buddy gives me a call, whenever he’s leaving for the day and we’re just talking about how his day went. And that’s when the incident came across the radio.
Dave: [00:07:30] And this is a neighboring jurisdiction that the radio traffic is from?
George: [00:07:34] Yes. Our fire rescue is the primary call for that whole city.
Yeardley: [00:07:40] And the city you’re talking about is Parkland, Florida?
George: [00:07:44] Yes. But as far as the police side, it’s another jurisdiction. So, all the dispatch and any 911 traffic come in, it goes through our radio traffic for fire emergencies, ambulance, rescue, all that is our agency. But for police incidents, it’s another agency. The first calls are received as 911 calls through the fire channel.
Dave: [00:08:03] What gets aired?
George: [00:08:04] One of our sergeants happened to be up in dispatch, and he made a point of getting on our police main channel and ask, “Hey, are you getting a call of an active shooter?” And dispatch immediately confirmed, “Yes, we’re getting several calls of an active shooter at a high school.”[911 call]
Officer: [00:08:19] I just had one of the fire [unintelligible 00:08:22] go by and they make reference to an active shooter at Douglas. Anything to that?
Operator: [00:08:27] 10-4-Kilo-23, there is an active shooter working at Douglas. Multiple gunshots are being fired. We can hear them in the background. Our 911 lines are blowing up. We have multiple units on the phone. Some are giving AMD, it is confirmed.
George: [00:08:42] There was a different feel and a different tone to that dispatch.
Paul: [00:08:45] This is a big deal.
Dave: [00:08:47] Yeah, something’s different with this one.
George: [00:08:49] Yeah, it was actually pretty vivid. Immediately, I knew this was different.
Dan: [00:08:53] The call comes in and it’s an actual high school.
George: [00:08:56] Yeah, the call is coming in from the high school, which we’re very familiar with, just out of our jurisdiction, but a third of the student body is probably our jurisdiction, and it’s like your rival sports school. So, we know the school really well.
Dave: [00:09:07] And what high school are we talking about here?
George: [00:09:09] This is Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland.
Yeardley: [00:09:13] Were those calls coming in about an active shooter coming from students at the school?
George: [00:09:19] Students, maybe some of faculty, but I think the flood of them were coming from students. And it could have even been students calling their parents and parents could just natural reaction. Kids reach out to their parents sometimes, is the first thing they do, but the call center was getting flooded with phone calls and they couldn’t get information out fast enough.
Dave: [00:09:37] And so you arrive pretty quickly.
George: [00:09:39] I got there pretty quickly. One of our first officers that was there is an SRO for our city.
Yeardley: [00:09:44] SRO is a school resource officer.
George: [00:09:47] Yes, school resource officer. He got there. He was the first person there and first person giving us live information on our radio, which was key to the whole event, and it says it’s coming from the three-story building. Anybody somewhat familiar with the campus, you know there’s only one of those.
SRO: [00:10:03] [unintelligible [00:10:02] be advised, the shooter is possibly inside the three-story building.
George: [00:10:06] It was very critical information when he said there’s an active shooter going on at the three-story facility.
Yeardley: [00:10:13] So, you all hear there’s an active shooter. Does the whole agency mobilize?
George: [00:10:20] Yeah, everybody’s going. So, I chose to come in from west to east, just for no other reason than I’m going to avoid traffic. The bad part is, as I come from the west, now you got school release going on for elementary schools.
Yeardley: [00:10:33] Oh, like end of day.
George: [00:10:35] End of day. Yeah, it was like 2:30, 2 20. So, there’s a couple of schools that are west of that. So, I had to beat through that a little bit.
Dan: [00:10:43] So, your SRO isn’t actually assigned to this school?
George: [00:10:47] Correct. He just usually goes over because the overflow goes into our community park, so he’d go hang out there so they’re not screwing around in the afternoon, messing around the parking lot. That’s the end of his day, his school’s already done for the day. So, it was pretty typical that both jurisdictions would help each other out just because high school students cannot always go directly home.[laughter]
Dave: [00:11:07] And Stoneman Douglas has an actual SRO.
George: [00:11:10] Correct. Yeah, they have a full-time SRO there. They have an SRO from that jurisdiction that is assigned to that high school 100% every day. Our guy, he’ll usually go over there and just help with getting traffic out. So, it’s pretty common that he’d head over there to the school also, just how they work together every day.
Dave: [00:11:27] Finishes at his school, goes and covers the other SRO.
George: [00:11:32] Correct.
Dave: [00:11:33] So, your driving code, after you hear this call come out driving with due diligence through some school zones, it sounds like.
George: [00:11:41] Yeah.
Dave: [00:11:41] And you’d already heard that that’s at the three-story building, so I’m guessing you’re like, “Oh, I know exactly where that is. I know where I’m going to park. I know how I’m going to get onto the campus,” etc.
George: [00:11:51] Yeah, you’re processing that pretty fast, and you think you know where you’re going to go and where you’re going to park. I have that all drawn out.
George: [00:12:14] At that point, our SRO, he’s in contact with a victim. So now, he’s in a whole another world of issues and he’s no longer able to give us information. He’s trying to get this girl taken care of, carried her. Fire rescue is on the way, they’re not quite there yet. And at this time, officers are already there on scene. So, here’s the critical dynamic that comes up. Our radio is not synced up with the other agency’s radio.
Officer: [00:12:42] We need to get the radios patched.
Officer: [00:12:43] I’m working on our end to get them patched.
Officer: [00:12:45] Sir, we need to get these radios patched– [voice fades away].
George: [00:12:47] Our captain and other senior officers above him are working with the other agency trying to get it patched. They’re trying to patch in our channels so that dispatch can have one primary person relaying information. Very difficult process. And it still hasn’t happened, but not for lack of effort.
Dan: [00:13:04] Brick building?
Paul: [00:13:05] Correct, yeah.
Yeardley: [00:13:06] Why does it matter if the building is brick?
Dan: [00:13:09] We found over the years that brick buildings sometimes will affect the transmission of our radios.
Yeardley: [00:13:15] Like it’s harder to get through a brick wall?
Dan: [00:13:17] Yeah.
George: [00:13:18] And this is the far end of the county. So, radio transmissions are tough anyways, sometimes just because it’s the distance from towers. But, again, the other jurisdiction’s probably dispatching and telling information, but we don’t have that. All the 911 calls are being routed out to the other jurisdiction for police issues, and there’s no crossover. I don’t know what’s going on their radio, just what’s happening on our radio.
Dave: [00:13:43] So, there’s a lot of factors to why communication is broken down at this point.
George: [00:13:48] Yeah.
Dave: [00:13:49] As you’re pulling up, what does the scene look like? Is it a stampede of kids running away from the school?
George: [00:13:55] As I got to the high school, I didn’t encounter a single student. I parked directly next to two other officers that are behind their vehicles. They got their handguns drawn and they’re aiming their pistols at a three-story building that’s 150 yards away. And they just point, “We got active shooter there.” I said, “Okay.” So, I hopped out of my car. Our rifles are right above my head, so I immediately release my rifle, sling it. I knew I had extra mags in the trunk, and I wanted to grab extra mags. And now one of our teams has responded, says that active shooter may be elevated.
Officer: [00:14:30] We got gunshot holes either coming into or out of the building on the west side, third floor.
George: [00:14:36] There’s bullet holes coming out the third-floor, bullet holes, not live fire. I’m not hearing gunshots. So, I asked those guys again, “Hey, what do you got?” And they just say, “We got guys that went into the building.” So, I made a point to get on the radio like, “Hey, be aware. They’re advising that there should be officers that have already entered the building,” so you’re trying to not have friendly fire.”
Dave: [00:15:03] After you parked to the time that you’re running to the building, how much time has expired?
George: [00:15:08] I don’t know. I mean, as fast as you can run 100 yards. A couple of our guys got there before, but the gates were locked. And luckily, another critical thing, one of our team, he had bolt cutters. Cut open the gates, so it made my entry easier. Some guys hopped the fence before I got there. And then luckily, this guy had a bolt cutter. So, I flowed right through those gates and ran towards the east end of this building.
Dan: [00:15:31] So you’re not hanging out at your car at all. You’ve already grabbed your rifle as you’re getting out of your car. You go to your trunk, grab your spare mags and your helmet, and you’re off.
George: [00:15:39] Yeah, I’m running into the building.
Dan: [00:15:40] So, we’re going to go into a little bit about training. Active shooter training as an officer. When you arrive on a scene like that and you don’t hear gunshots, that is a different response than you’re hearing active gunfire.
George: [00:15:53] Yeah. 100%. You don’t hear active gunfire, you’re bypassing every threat. Even at this time we did, you run past hundred cars, there’s possible threats everywhere. But you’re going to the known threat. 100% you know there’s a problem, you’re going to the problem till we eliminate the threat.
Dave: [00:16:08] In our agency, our training on active shooter was, because we’ve had one at Thurston High School, our response since that shooting has always been, “How many officers do you need to go address the shooter?” Our agency was one. One officer can go hunting and look for that active shooter, because we have vests and we have guns and kids have backpacks. “Go get that shooter’s attention on you so they’ll stop killing kids.” Do you have any idea of how many cops have gotten to the property before you?
George: [00:16:48] I have no idea how many are there at all. I just see some guys in front of me, and I can see some guys out of my peripheral coming from the left. So, they’re coming from east to west, coming from another main road running towards east end of that building.
Dave: [00:17:01] Are these guys from your agency?
George: [00:17:03] Everybody I caught a visual of was from my agency. I find out later, obviously there were other agency guys with us because some of our guys were motor guys. They wear bright white shirts. Some of the guys were just detectives, and they’ve slipped on stuff and threw on a quick vest. We all kind of convene and get to at that east door right about the same time. And we’re kind of staged at the door for a second. You just kind of get your wits about you, and now you’re just listening.
Dan: [00:17:28] Now, when you don’t hear gunfire, like George, in this situation, now things are different.
George: [00:17:33] Yeah. When you’re not hearing gunshots, you’re pausing for a second. You’re trying to gather information.
Dave: [00:17:39] Your response is dictated by what the shooter is doing. When you hear the gunshots, you’re running through the school to where you’re hearing the gunshots. And when they stop, then you slow down.
Yeardley: [00:17:50] Talk about the reason behind that because I remember when you told me that, I thought it would be the opposite. That when you hear the gunfire, you would slow down and when it was quiet, you would speed up.
Dave: [00:18:04] When you’re hearing gunshots, you can go, okay, depending on the situation, you can tell which direction those shots are heading. Or, you can tell the shooter is busy right now. Now’s the time to close the gap. And once you get a visual or you get a better indication about where they’re at, or the shooting stops, you go, “Okay, time to gather more information.”
George: [00:18:28] Yeah.
Dan: [00:18:29] Maybe the shooter’s heading toward me now. And if I come around a corner, we’re going to have a confrontation. That’s why you slow down when you don’t hear the gunshots. Now, you’re more methodical in how you’re clearing a building or navigating certain spaces.
Dave: [00:18:43] Yeah. When you hear the gunshots, you’re passing by doors that normally you’d be like, “Let’s check this room. Make sure he’s not hiding. Let’s check this room.” Now you’re like, “Well, there’s gunshots at the end of that hallway. I’m not going to worry about the 15 rooms that I just passed,” because you just can’t afford to.
George: [00:19:00] Yeah. And now people are yelling. And one of them was my SWAT captain, I recognized him right away. The commander tells everybody there at the door, “Shut the hell up.” And we’ve come up with a plan. It’s a double-door situation. Double doors is going to open up into hallways.
Yeardley: [00:19:17] And do you know anything about the active shooter at this point, how old this person is, or–?
George: [00:19:23] They’re starting to give us information that it could be a student or student aged. They knew it was a male. So, we’re getting to that as we’re getting ready to go through the doorway. So again, it’s probably 15-20 seconds, you gather yourself, you know gunshots are ringing out and then we open up the door.
Dan: [00:19:41] What’s the first thing that you remember opening those doors?
George: [00:19:45] It was amazingly quiet, like church quiet. There wasn’t a sound that you could hear. Open the door and the hallway was completely covered in smoke.
Dave: [00:19:56] And we’re not talking about a fire.
George: [00:19:59] No, you could tell it’s from a rifle. If you’ve been on fire range enough, live fire at range, if you’ve been there, smoke just comes. So, the hallway is just full of smoke. About two feet down was clear, and then above two, three feet in the air, which is covered in smoke, and I’m hearing nothing. Immediate to my left, I can see two deceased kids there. They’re lifeless, stacked up in that doorway. I’m panning left to right. You could just see 50, 60, 80, 100 shell casings, whatever the count was. It’s just magazines and spent shell casings all over the ground.
Paul: [00:20:36] At this point, with the number of cartridge cases, you see expended magazines dropped on the floor, you’re getting a sense for the type of weapon that the shooter has.
George: [00:20:46] Yeah, you’re confident he’s got a rifle.
Paul: [00:20:48] When you say rifle, what do you mean?
George: [00:20:50] It was an AR-15 is what we discovered.
Paul: [00:20:53] Okay, and this is based on the types of cartridge cases you’re seeing at the scene, the magazines that were dropped.
George: [00:20:58] Correct. And then just the amount of smoke there, you’re not getting it out of a handgun, you got to fire a lot of rounds. And now, as you see that all you see is a body drag that had occurred.
Yeardley: [00:21:09] What do you mean by that?
George: [00:21:11] So, you could tell that somebody was dragged out that was bleeding profusely, so you can see a blood trail going from a spot out doors that are on the west. But as you pan forward and look down the hallway, we recognize that some guys in black. We’re pretty sure it’s our guys, but I can’t make out who it is. Then, we start yelling, yelling, yelling, we’re not 100% they’re officers, but we’re yelling– blue is kind of a common term, “Blue, blue.” We’re yelling, “Cops.” Then, they recognize a voice, but I can’t clearly tell who they are. That’s how smoky it is. At this point, I was pretty confident we were getting into a gun battle. 100% that’s the only thought I had in my brain. I’m like, “I know there’s dudes here.”
Yeardley: [00:21:50] George, how long had this shooter been active by the time you get into the building? Did you have any sense of that?
George: [00:21:57] I had no clue. But my visual sense, what I hear, smell, I was confident this dude is right here, how smoky that hallway was. 100%, I’m like, “This dude is here between us and those officers, now we’re both downrange of each other.”
Dan: [00:22:13] If bad guy is between both groups of good guys, that’s a bad spot to be for the good guys, as well as the bad guy. Now, you’re in a crossfire situation. So, depending on which way bad guy turns, there’s going to be bullets going in both directions.
George: [00:22:28] Yeah. You’re going to be in a line of rounds.
Dan: [00:22:31] There’s no cover.
Dan: [00:22:49] And so, you’re thinking a gunfight is imminent, and that you’re standing basically at the mouth of the funnel on both ends, both groups. Obviously, there’s a game plan that’s evolving very quickly.
George: [00:23:01] Yeah, we’d already quick– once we kind of recognized those guys that are on the west end, they said, “We’re going up.”
Dave: [00:23:08] So while you guys are clearing the first floor, the group that was at the other end of the building, when you first made entry, they go to the second floor and begin clearing the second floor. Correct?
George: [00:23:17] Correct. Once we identified each other, they worked their way to the second floor, and we continued to work the first floor.
Dave: [00:23:23] It just highlights how chaotic these situations are. There’s no textbook response to this.
George: [00:23:31] No. It’s a crazy dynamic. But again, throughout the whole time, we still have no communication with the other agency as far as radio.
Yeardley: [00:23:38] So now, George, you’re staying on the first floor?
George: [00:23:41] Yeah. So, they went up. Now, we got a double door, it goes through a stairwell. So, we got to address that, at least get it open. We just open up those double doors and now we got lethal coverage in that stairwell, should something come back towards us.
Yeardley: [00:23:53] Explain lethal coverage.
Dave: [00:23:56] Something that shoots real bullets, not less than lethal. So, if you’re challenging a suspect, like, “Hey, show me your hands,” that kind of thing. If someone’s got less lethal coverage, like a taser or pepper spray, baton, a beanbag, you want to have somebody who’s also got something that’s a step above that, just in case things go sideways.
George: [00:24:19] We got 10, 12, 14 people there now. At this point, you feel pretty good, you got both those doorways covered. And at this point, our captain and other senior officers above him, they’re in touch with the security guys that worked the high school, trying to give some information. So now, we start deciding what we’re going to do, we’re getting radio traffic. Now, we’re trying to listen.[police radio crosstalk chatter]
George: [00:24:47] Too many people get on the radio, you can’t get a transmission through. So, we’re trying to stay off the radio. Our captain’s running our radio for us. And then, there’s an immense moderated traffic where you can’t get on the radio.
Dan: [00:24:59] Yeah, and this is why it’s so important that officers maintain radio discipline, that you only talk about things that are actually important, that are pertinent to the situation in front of you.
Dave: [00:25:09] It should be understood, it’s emergency traffic only.
George: [00:25:12] It happens way, way too often.
Dan: [00:25:14] I call it stepping on people. Someone else is talking, so whatever you’re trying to say won’t go over the radio.
Dave: [00:25:21] It’s my biggest pet peeve. I’ve been in the middle of a fight asking for Code 3 cover, somebody copied up from at least 70 blocks away, gives their designator and then says, “I’ll be in route from–” and I’m like, “You’re tying up the radio.”
Yeardley: [00:25:36] Because that officer being 70 blocks away is too far away for him to be useful to you when you need help immediately.
Dave: [00:25:43] Exactly. In a situation like this, it’s so evolving. This is a situation where we could all be standing here and all of a sudden, the guy pops out and says, “I’m going to start sending some rounds at those cops.”
George: [00:25:58] Yeah. So, at this point, we get no new information. Now we decide we need to start assessing what other problems we got here inside the classroom. You could see windows are shot out, small windows, six inches, eight inches by three-foot-tall, little narrow windows of a classroom. Rounds have been sent into these classrooms, probably with some victims.
Paul: [00:26:20] What’s really standing out to me is, you’re going into the school and you’re saying it is just absolutely silent. You have all these students, teachers that are holed up in these rooms. Some of them have serious injuries. They’re not crying out. They’re not wailing or anything.
George: [00:26:39] No.
Paul: [00:26:39] Some of these injuries would have been extremely painful.
Dan: [00:26:42] Absolutely.
Paul: [00:26:43] And to stay absolutely silent is amazing.
George: [00:26:46] Yeah, it was.
Dave: [00:26:47] That’s survival instinct at that point. They’re hiding. Don’t let the shooter know that there’s actually people in here.
George: [00:26:53] Yeah. So, I take one side of the building, another guy because he goes to the right side of building, he starts breaking open windows. Announced our presence, we’re coming in. Reach in, unlock the door. Students are in there, teacher’s in there. One of the first classrooms I go in, I can immediately see, there’s two victims down, and from the doorway, they look lifeless to me also. I go to them right away anyways, just to check, do a pulse check. I tell an officer behind me, I’m like, “Check them, check them,” I’m getting nothing. There were four or five other people that we checked to see, so we don’t want to just assume anything. Now, we start panning the rest of the room. And I wasn’t in there alone, there were officers coming in. So, I know I got people covering any and all threat behind me. But I went right to where I knew were downed victims.
Officer: [00:27:40] All right, guys. Anybody else? Three injured. Is anybody injured?[crosstalk]
Officer: [00:27:46] Where? Come here. Can you come up? Do you walk? Where were you shot?
Victim: Oh, my God.
George: [00:27:54] Now, we have other students finally working our way towards us, and you could see wounds. Some are through their face. Some are just maybe after the fact there were ricochet rounds that were bouncing around and hit people. There’s other people with some more critical wounds. Somebody makes a decision like, “We’re going to start moving some of the critically injured out.” We got no active of gunfire going on, and so we started doing triage. Who can move, who needs to get looked at right away. After the fact, I commended a lot of students and a lot of teachers. Teachers did amazing job to try and get students in there locked down, it helped save lives. But as we enter and talk to kids, I’m trying to get intel, “Did you see the shooter? Anybody else hurt?” I’m kind of drilling into the teachers and students, “What did you see? What can you tell me? Can you describe him?” Most of them couldn’t. We’re getting some information that they believe it’s a student that’s a shooter, trying to give a description and they don’t have a description of him yet. Again, no active fire going on.
Dan: [00:28:52] Just looking for actionable intel at that point.
George: [00:28:54] Yeah, just whatever, something we’d go off, all we had was it was a male. So now, we’re trying to get a shirt, an age going through a thousand students in the building, “Where’s our threat?”
Yeardley: [00:29:05] So, would you say that time sort of slows down as you’re going down this hallway that’s filled with smoke and you’re seeing the carnage? Do you have any sense of time?
George: [00:29:17] You lose sense of time. I don’t know if it slows down or what’s the proper word. But after the fact, you felt like you weren’t there that long, but you’re processing information really quickly. And you think you’re moving as quickly as humanly possible to render services, render aid, and still work on a threat. But I had no sense of how much time I’d been in the building from the time I left my car, to the time we get to that first door. I had no sense of time how long I’ve been on the ground in the building.
Paul [00:29:41] Did you feel that there was any type of tunnel vision going on? Or, did you feel that your senses were enhanced during this moment?
George: [00:29:49] Not so much enhanced but pretty focused. I didn’t have tunnel vision. I was pretty clear of what was around me. And again, it helped that it was incredibly silent, except for the radio in your ear a little bit. I felt like I was pretty clear headed. You’re just trying to do a job. And our job was to find this guy if he’s in the building. Maybe he had just gone into hiding. Now, he’s one of them. We don’t know at the time, but you feel like it’s a high school aged looking person.
Dave: [00:30:15] It’s speculation, but it’s probably likely that he’s trying to blend back in and escape the scene.
George: [00:30:21] Yes, I would say that’s an accurate statement.
Paul: [00:30:24] This is obviously not a training exercise. You know that possibly you could be shot and killed any second at this point.
George: [00:30:30] Yeah. Like I said, from the time we opened that door, I was sure we were getting into a gunfight.
Dave: [00:30:34] And, George, have you felt that, “I’m about to be in a gunfight” sensation before?
George: [00:30:40] No, that was the realest that I felt that before. You’ve gone to calls where there are shots fired, and you hear shots being fired. But by the time you get there, you know that the problem is pretty much gone. This, now you’re literally in a tunnel. You’re in a hallway, and you feel like the threat should be in here or above us. And there’s no other means of exit unless you jump out a window.
Dave: [00:31:01] It’s imminent, and I’m guessing in your baseball and law enforcement career adrenaline dump wise, this got to be near the top?
George: [00:31:10] For sure.
Dave: [00:31:12] And what that does to your body, like Paul was talking about, enhanced senses, you’ve already been inoculated to it, but this is to a degree that you’ve probably not experienced before.
George: [00:31:22] No, there’s no way to replicate that and no amount of training. We’ve all trained officer down rescues, other rescues, student rescues. But I mean, I got a lot of victims here in front of me. And both of my kids were high school aged kids at this time. So, it’s real.
Yeardley: [00:31:55] So, George, you are making your way down the hallway.
George: [00:32:00] Yes, everybody’s kind of flooding into classrooms.
Yeardley: [00:32:03] And about how many classrooms are in this hallway?
George: [00:32:05] Five to six on each side, pretty parallel to each other. And there’s bathrooms in between, some common bathrooms, and then there’s offices at the far end, but a typical school look.
Dave: [00:32:16] Every room has experienced some gunfire.
George: [00:32:20] I didn’t go on the one side of the building, but every room I answered, definitely experienced gunfire.
Dave: [00:32:26] And there are students in each room.
George: [00:32:27] Students in each room. And, again, at this point, I’ve got four casualties. Two there in the door that we had to move, we had to move to get into the door. Then, there’s two more casualties deep into a room that are leaned up against other students that are hiding. So, you know you got casualties that are just laying against other students, this is your peers.
Dave: [00:32:47] So, you had to break a window to get the doors unlocked. The doors had been locked by the teacher or by a student. And these casualties you’re seeing are just the field of view that a rifle could access through that narrow window in the door.
George: [00:33:02] Pretty much. I don’t think that any direct fire rifle was pointed in there. And in this room, the field of view that the rifle is able to get to unfortunately, that’s where some students were hiding, and that was just what happened.
Dave: [00:33:15] Sitting ducks.
George: [00:33:16] Yes.
Paul: [00:33:17] In any of these classrooms, could you tell whether the shooter was able to actually enter the classroom through the door or is just shooting from the hallway through the window?
George: [00:33:25] Every door I came across was locked. So, he had to shoot from outside to in. I had to break every window that I went into. I don’t know what happened on the other side. But any room I went into, I broke the glass and reached in and opened the door.
Dave: [00:33:38] Good job by those teachers and students.
George: [00:33:40] I commend them every day. If I ever saw one of them, they did the best they absolutely could in an immensely stressful situation with almost no training.
So, we’re starting to evacuate some critically injured students. The first person I carried out, I couldn’t remember it was male or female. I knew what I was doing but I was so hyped up, I couldn’t remember it was male or female. That’s how I even wrote it in my report. I found out later, it was a male student that I carried out with one of the sergeants. Pretty serious gunshot wound, high in the pelvis, but was able to talk to us. Some of our SWAT medics had showed up and they were helping. Luckily, there was a golfcart waiting for us and dropped that person off on the golfcart, and run back in a building to start doing more work on the first floor.
Dave: [00:34:22] It’s not unheard of for a school or a larger campus to have golfcarts so you can get from one side of the campus to the other quickly out to where ambulances might be stationed where we can get people off to the hospital quickly. So, it’s really a shuttle.
George: [00:34:37] Yeah, it was integral because rescue could not get close to the building. That became the way of running victims out to rescue.
Yeardley: [00:34:45] There are just so many layers to consider and navigate in a situation like this.
Dave: [00:34:51] Correct. These types of trainings where we integrate law enforcement with fire personnel is an evolution in reaction to active shooter situations where we want those medics with their expertise right behind me while we go up, make sure the scene is safe, but right on top of us, we have medical personnel who can handle injuries.
Yeardley: [00:35:16] Right.
Dave: [00:35:17] So now, there’s other students that had some injuries to arms and face and they’re able to walk out. Anybody that was not injured will stay in inside the classroom because it’s too much flow going out, and we don’t know if there’s a threat still, but let’s get people to medical attention as fast as we can. At this point, still, we have nothing telling us that there’s an active shooter going on or we’re getting better information. Now, they believe it’s a student that might be wearing an ROTC uniform.
Officer: [00:35:42] 39, white male, ROTC uniform.
Dispatch: [00:35:46] White male, ROTC uniform.
Yeardley: [00:35:49] Tell us what ROTC stands for.
Dave: [00:35:51] Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, isn’t it?
George: [00:35:53] Right. It’s something they offer in a lot of high schools where they’re going to plan to maybe go into a military background when they leave high school versus college where there’s a uniform associated with that that’s more military look as like an entry level military guy. And then, they’ll have a nice dress uniform, but then they’ll also have like, a casual wear they can wear to school that shows they’re part of ROTC.
Paul: [00:36:14] Would this particular ROTC uniform be confused as a law enforcement uniform?
George: [00:36:20] I don’t think so. I think you’d quickly recognize that it was just an ROTC uniform. But it turned out he wasn’t actually wearing a uniform.
Yeardley: [00:36:29] So, the person who described the shooter as wearing an ROTC uniform was actually not correct?
George: [00:36:35] It wasn’t correct. And that happens a lot. Suspect descriptions change rapidly. Simple things as colors of shirts, height, weight, you can get a lot of varieties.
Dave: [00:36:45] The amount of times that you’ve gone– not even a school shooter situation, but a shoplifting gone bad or a robbery, where suspects know that we’re looking for certain clothing, and they start stripping layers as they’re running away from the scene. And we come across a backpack and a hoodie two blocks away, and you’re like, “Well, at least I know that I’m on the right track here.”
Paul: [00:37:08] Correct. And they’ve just left their DNA behind.
Yeardley: [00:37:10] Ah, [chuckles] says Paul, the forensic scientist.[laughter]
Dan: [00:37:17] So, you guys finish clearing the first floor, what do you do next?
George: [00:37:22] We’re in the west stairwell, the primary agency is on scene, their special ops teams on scene. So, you’re kind of letting them take the lead to the flow on how it’s going to go. But we don’t know where the threat is at. Now, we got to still find a threat, and we feel like there’s a threat in the building.
Dan: [00:37:36] And you still haven’t heard a gunshot at this point.
George: [00:37:38] I haven’t heard a gunshot. But now, we’re getting somebody that’s worked for the school, now they’re in the camera room, security cameras on campus. So now, they’re reviewing camera footage, and now they’re giving us information.
Officer: [00:37:50] Going back down toward the second floor.
Officer: [00:37:52] No, not that I know of. I am not [crosstalk] that side of campus.
Officer: [00:37:54] Just be focused [crosstalk] exited the building.[crosstalk]
Officer: [00:37:56] Is this live info? This is live?
Officer: [00:37:59] Nobody else get on this radio but the camera guy.
George: [00:38:02] We’re there in the second floor at the landing, starting to work our way up the second floor. We’re getting information, “Hey, still in the building. He is now coming in from the third-floor to the second floor.” So, bingo, I’m there. We operate a rifle on safe, especially when you’re on stack, you operate on safe and it’s just a quick little toggle with your thumb again, you’ve done it four million times. And it was so quiet in there, you could hear everybody’s gun go off safe. You hear that loud click just echo in the stairwell.[safety clicks off]
Dave: [00:38:32] George, a handful of officers simultaneously moved the fire selector from safe to fire in a very silent staircase. There was no radio order from your commander or verbal, “Hey, let’s all go to fire,” you guys all just instinctively knew.
George: [00:38:51] Yeah.
Dave: [00:38:52] Everybody who’s fired that weapon knows that sound.
George: [00:38:54] Yeah, you know the sound, you know the feeling. I could feel it right now with my thumb almost.
Dave: [00:38:59] Yeah, the tension.
George: [00:39:00] Yeah.
Dan: [00:39:01] So, the shooter is above you. An elevated position is a position of advantage for the shooter in this case.
George: [00:39:06] Yeah. We had worked our way halfway up the stairwell. So, we have a gun at that third-floor door. If that door opens up, we got a problem that we can address.
Paul: [00:39:15] So, the entire group that is in this staircase, are you guys like on a landing looking up at this third-floor door or are you positioned one on top of each other on the stairs looking up?
George: [00:39:28] It was a little bit of a staggered position. Seven or eight of us are kind of spread out in the stairwell and covering that third-floor door. The information we got was, “Yes, he’s coming at you.” They’re telling us, “We’re watching it live.” They gave us a description, male, wearing a maroon shirt. They’re telling us shooter’s coming at us, but we weren’t encountering anybody.
Dave: [00:39:49] So, you hear this, he’s running towards you, it’s imminent. You’re going to encounter him and then you wait. Nothing happens. And then, I’m sure the lightbulb went on for some people like, the camera operator is watching the security camera footage from 15-20 minutes ago.
George: [00:40:07] Yeah.
Officer: [00:40:08] [crosstalk] I don’t know the school like you do. I need this information relayed on the radio. No, I don’t know the school but I tell you or ask a question, give me an answer. [crosstalk] Okay, where was he last? This is live right now.
Person: [00:40:22] [crosstalk] -said, he’s walking back to the second floor.
Officer: [00:40:23] He’s walked to the second floor or the first floor?
Person: [00:40:25] No, back to the second floor, he went to the third, and he went back to the third and fourth.
Officer: [00:40:29] This is right now.
Officer: [00:40:31] You’re asking me if this is live info, is that where he is right now?
Officer: [00:40:34] Yeah.
Officer: [00:40:35] That’s where they last saw him on the camera.
George: [00:40:37] He was asked several times, “Is this live?” But there was quite a delay in the video room.
Dan: [00:40:44] The person who’s in the video room, are they law enforcement or do they work for the school?
George: [00:40:48] They work for the school.
Dan: [00:40:50] And that’s a factor here.
George: [00:40:51] Absolutely, it’s a factor.
Yeardley: [00:40:53] Why is that?
George: [00:40:55] Officers just process it differently and they kind of know what to give looking at a video, it’s completely different on what detail I’m looking for.
Dave: [00:41:03] I’m sure the camera guy is dealing with a lot of stress as well. However, the order in which you review footage is very important here. I want to know a real-time look at the three floors on this building. Later on, I can go back and get, and I’ve seen later on, like within a few minutes trying to get a description, but I would want those officers to know where is the shooter right now. This could be a situation where the guy goes, “Well, I need to get a description of who was shooting,” rewinds it to, “Oh, there’s the shooting.” And now, you have this delay because he’s watching footage, but he’s 15 minutes behind real time. He’s looking at it, going, “Oh, okay, he’s on the second floor now.” But that was 15 minutes ago or 10 minutes ago. And now, he’s gotten to the point where shooter’s on the third-floor, but he’s still minutes behind real time.
Dan: [00:41:58] Like George said, law enforcement watches these videos and looks for different things quite differently than a civilian in this situation. And that’s why I asked, was law enforcement in that room because it’s critical.
Yeardley: [00:42:15] What is happening?[crosstalk]
Dan: [00:42:17] Somebody’s hanging off the side of the building.
Yeardley: [00:42:19] [unintelligible 00:42:21]?
Dan: [00:42:22] Those guys are all looking up. Just a few floors up.
Yeardley: [00:42:31] I don’t see anything.[background chatter]
Yeardley: [00:43:17] You’re probably wondering what just happened. Well, in the middle of our interview with Officer George, where we were recording in mine and Detective Dan’s hotel room, we saw smoke and then flames licking up the side of the building. The fire alarm was late kicking in, but even so, we and everyone else in the hotel got out safely, and the damage to the hotel was minimal. However, we did have to press pause for almost three hours. It was actually a welcome break, given the weight and horror of what George was sharing with us that day. So, we thought this unexpected interruption would also make a natural break for our listeners in Episode 1.
[00:43:59] We’ll be back next Friday to hear the conclusion of Officer George’s experiences that day. Thank you.[Small Town Dicks theme playing]
Yeardley: [00:44:10] Small Town Dicks is produced by Gary Scott and Yeardley Smith, and coproduced by Detectives Dan and Dave. This episode was edited by Logan Heftel, Soren Begin, Gary Scott, and me, Yeardley Smith. Our associate producers are Erin Gaynor and the Real Nick Smitty. Our music is composed by John Forest. Our editors extraordinaire are Logan Heftel and Soren Begin. And our books are cooked and cats wrangled by Ben Cornwell.
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Dave: [00:45:37] So, thanks for listening, Small Town Fam.
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