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Section 14
Training Students to Respond to Shootings on Campus

Question 14 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed four steps that can help encourage students to come forward about threats.  These four steps are ensure confidentiality, direct contact between parents and teachers, educational films, and decisive action.

In this section, we will discuss Jack Kelley’s 4-stage model for the phases of a hostage situation. These four phases are the initial hostage taking stage, the crisis stage, the accommodation stage, and the surrender stage. In addition, we will discuss the responsibility of adult caregivers to children during a hostage situation.

As you know, some school shootings run the risk of becoming hostage situations. A hostage situation may last anywhere from a fraction of a day to prolonged captivity. In the case of school shootings, a hostage situation resulting in a student killing a peer is extremely dangerous, because the preexisting relationships involved may further destabilize the situation. Jack Kelley, a police and wartime hostage negotiator, recommends training school staff to respond to each stage in a four-stage model of a hostage situation, in order to prepare all staff in the case of a hostage taking event.

Jack Kelley's 4-Stage Model for Phases of a Hostage Situation

♦ Stage # 1 - Initial Hostage Taking Stage
Kelley’s first stage is called the initial hostage taking stage.  In this stage, clearly, emotions are elevated and reasoning capacity diminished.  Kelley suggests that this initial phase is one of two stages in which hostages are at the greatest risk.  As you know, during this stage the hostage taker is seeking to secure control of the hostages, as well as to convince the hostages that he or she is in control.  Thus, unexpected reactions by the hostages at this tense stage may have severe consequences. 

Some question exists as to the value of resisting at this stage, as this may put the hostage taker at a momentary disadvantage; However, the fact remains that such resistance is extremely dangerous.  From an external point of view, it is crucial during this time for the negotiator and those assisting him or her to quickly interview those with ties to the hostage taker.

♦ Stage # 2 - Crisis Stage
Kelley’s second stage is the crisis stage. During this chaotic stage, the hostage taker is apt to behave emotionally and irrationally, threaten, and use hostage welfare as leverage to press for demands. This is also the time during which responding authorities organize and evaluate the scene. As you know, some school hostage situations resolve at this stage, frequently with deaths involved. 

Research indicates that two trends emerge during the crisis stage.  One direction is that some hostage takers may be positively influenced by victims who rapidly overcome shock and regain dignity. Conversely, cases emerge in which children held by a mentally disturbed captor have been shot when they drew attention to themselves.

♦ Stage # 3 - Accommodation Stage
In addition to the initial stage and the crisis stage, Kelley’s third stage is the accommodation stage, which Kelley describes as the most productive stage. By the accommodation stage, the hostage taker may have settled into a routine and may have become calmer. Clearly, this stage is marked by progress in negotiations.  According to Kelley, if hostages are given the opportunity to be released, it is essential that the hostages leave. 

Thus it is vital for those involved, such as teachers, to be trained to recognize reactions such as guilt for leaving others, empathy for captors, or fear of authorities.  These reactions, as you know, may make child hostages reluctant to leave, especially after a period of prolonged captivity.

♦ Stage # 4 - Surrender Stage
Kelley’s final stage is the surrender stage.  If all goes well, all hostages will have been released, marking the fourth stage. At this point, ideally the hostage taker will have realized the futility of continuing the situation. However, in most cases the hostage taker has become suicidal at the surrender stage, and has had to be dealt with as a danger to him or herself as well as to others.

Clearly, the most readily established technique for handling a potential hostage situation is that of lockdown.  Lockdown includes locking the classroom doors and windows, turning off the lights, and moving students away from windows and into protected areas out of sight.  

Although it is essential to assess each situation individually, researchers have proposed a few general guidelines for those responsible for the well-being of children when the shooter or hostage taker is inside the classroom.  These steps attempt to help the adult maintain responsibility for the course of the experience to prevent children’s increased guilt, emotional proximity, and symptoms. 

Technique: Three Guidelines for Lockdown

Guideline 1: Protect children as much as possible from viewing traumatic images, such as bloody or mutilated bodies.
Guideline 2: If a child is directed to do something, or has to make a decision about what must be done, protect the child from any emotional sense of responsibility, as long as this protection can be done without creating increased stress or hostility within the hostage taker.
Guideline 3: Assist children, if possible, in the use of key coping mechanisms to maintain a sense of autonomy or independence, such as dissociation, fantasy, though suppression, accepting contradictory beliefs, humor, and the humanization of victim to captor. 

It is important to remember, however, that while humanization of the victim may be a priority in a hostage situation involving only adults, the perceived caring of the hostage taker for the victim may complicate a child’s traumatic response and recovery.  Survival and prevention of exposure to trauma or guilt-inducing experiences are clearly the priority in those hostage situations involving children.

After the event, initial post-trauma interventions may involve taking care of concrete needs and providing protection. This may include moving children away from upsetting physical reminders such as location, and protecting children from additional traumatizing perceptions such as sight, smells, or sound. I have also found that part of this protection involves shielding children from media interviews. 

As you know, this interaction with the media may worsen symptoms, cause stigmatization, or enhance celebrity. Enhancing the celebrity of the hostages may lead to regrets for emotional statements or demeanor, a subsequent sense of "falling from grace" as additional personal details are exposed, and a sense of having been exploited. Would you agree that protecting children from media interviews following a hostage situation at a school is a high priority?

In this section, we have discussed Jack Kelley’s 4-stage model for the phases of a hostage situation.  These four phases are the initial hostage taking stage, the crisis stage, the accommodation stage, and the surrender stage.  In addition, we have discussed the responsibility of adult caregivers to children during a hostage situation.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Markey, P. M., Ivory, J. D., Slotter, E. B., Oliver, M. B., & Maglalang, O. (2019). He does not look like video games made him do it: Racial stereotypes and school shootings. Psychology of Popular Media Culture. Advance online publication.

Peterson, J., Sackrison, E., & Polland, A. (2015). Training students to respond to shootings on campus: Is it worth it? Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 2(2), 127–138. 

Raitanen, J., & Oksanen, A. (2019). Deep interest in school shootings and online radicalization. Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 6(3-4), 159–172.

Wozniak, J. D., Caudle, H. E., Harding, K., Vieselmeyer, J., & Mezulis, A. H. (2020). The effect of trauma proximity and ruminative response styles on posttraumatic stress and posttraumatic growth following a university shooting. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(3), 227–234.

What are the four stages of a hostage situation?
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