The FSU Shooting: Learning and Surviving

Exploring the role of mental illness in mass shootings and surviving the aftermath

Exploring the role of mental illness in mass shootings and surviving the aftermath

On Nov. 20, 2014, the campus of Florida State University became the latest addition to a growing list of campus shootings. Myron May, the shooter, opened fire in a crowded library, wounding three students before being shot and killed by police when he refused to relinquish his weapon. People who knew Myron, a 31-year-old graduate of Florida State University and Texas Tech University law school, described him as caring, humble, smart and well-respected. A few months before the shooting, he reportedly developed a severe mental disorder, was hearing voices, not sleeping, was depressed and paranoid about being targeted by the government. Some people say this event proves the mentally ill are dangerous; it also shows that anyone can have a mental illness, and, under the right unfortunate conditions, may become violent.

Mental illness and violence In 2012, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that there were an estimated 43.7 million adults aged 18 or older in the U.S. with mental illnesses, representing about 18.6 percent of all U.S. adults, not including people with substance-abuse diagnoses. Mental illness transcends race, age, sex, nationality, occupation, socioeconomic status and educational level; it can affect anyone. A UCLA study concluded that “ …mass murderers with mental health problems, while they receive a tremendous amount of media attention, are not typical of those who commit violent crimes, and the vast majority of those with serious mental illness do not engage in violent acts.” People with mental illness are not all gun-wielding maniacs—they are your family members, celebrities, clergy, professionals and politicians.

Myron’s family and friends saw signs of his deterioration and tried to get him help. Unfortunately, it was not enough for this situation; however, this can be prevented in other instances. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, seek help from a mental health professional. If the individual is endangering or threatening to harm him or herself or others, call the police, or bring that person to the nearest hospital. Warning signs of mental illness include but are not limited to: a sudden and unexplained change in behavior, routine, personal hygiene, sleeping habits, or mood; bizarre thoughts or behavior; erratic speech; hallucinations; delusions; and an increase in drug or alcohol use.

Survival tips for an active shooter situation: Regardless of the reasons why people open fire on groups of people, given the unpredictability of human nature, it is important to know what to do should you get caught in a public shooting. Many people, even social workers working in the school system and in the hospitals, must be trained how to respond to such situations in preparation for worst-case scenarios

Decide and act quickly: Fear can take over and paralyze you, so you need to decide if you should run, hide or fight quickly. Act upon your decision based on your location, ability and proximity to the shooter.

Run: If you hear gunshots or are fortunate enough to get an announcement, don’t take it lightly. If you have time to run and can do so safely, then run like Michael Johnson. If the shooter is nearby, run in a zigzag pattern to make yourself a more difficult target. Runners have the highest survival rate in shootings.

Arm yourself: Grab any weapons you can use—such as scissors, a high-heeled shoe, pens, or whatever you can wield or throw—in case you need to use them.

Barricade: If possible, find a room that you can secure, and barricade the entrance with whatever you can find. If you’re in an area that can’t be locked from the inside, then try to secure the doors with a belt, tie or shoelaces.

Hide: Try to call 911 from a landline so the number can be traced, turn off the lights, be quiet, silence your cell phone, hide or stay away from doors and windows, and get low.

Attack the shooter: This is an absolute last resort if your life is in danger. If there are multiple people in the room, then all of you can ambush the shooter. Go for the sensitive areas, such as crotch, eyes, head and knees; attacking the arm and shoulders may cause the shooter to drop the weapon.