The Maryland School Shooter Killed Himself. Does That Mean the Resource Officer Isn’t a Hero?
If anything, what happened in Maryland last week continues to prove why we need even more trained, armed adults in schools who can quickly engage an active shooter.
Do recent revelations in the Maryland school shooting case prove that the armed officer didn’t stop the shooting? No, but that’s what some are arguing.
The 17-year-old who killed one student and injured another at Great Mills High School in Maryland last week died from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, The Baltimore Sun reported Monday. Officials announced the revelation after an investigation of the incident.
Authorities had previously revealed that once the school resource officer, Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill, confronted the teen, both fired a shot. Until now, it was unclear whether the shooter died from Gaskill’s shot or his own.
The shooter was armed with a 9mm Glock pistol. Before being approached by Gaskill, he shot 16-year-old Jaelynn Willey in the head. She died days later in the hospital. Desmond Barnes, 14, was hit in the leg by the same bullet. The shooter, Austin Rollins, died hours later.
In response to the Sun’s report, some called out the NRA and spokeswoman Dana Loesch. “Can’t wait for righteous media vigilante @DLoesch to cover this story like crazy,” Daily Beast National Affairs Editor Mark Follman tweeted.
Gun control activist Shannon Watts said the story “destroys the @NRA’s narrative.”
“The armed guard did not dissuade him from carrying out the crime, nor did it ultimately stop him from doing so,” she tweeted.
Well, this destroys the @NRA’s narrative. A teen took his father’s loaded gun to school to fatally shoot his ex-girlfriend and himself. The armed guard did not dissuade him from carrying out the crime, nor did it ultimately stop him from doing so.https://t.co/eiVXxyGss6
— Shannon Watts (@shannonrwatts) March 26, 2018
MSNBC National Correspondent Joy Reid retweeted Watts, saying, “What now, @DLoesch?”
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) March 26, 2018
Responding, Loesch tweeted, “When good guys show up, the bad guys kill themselves. … So you’re saying the armed guard was not a deterrent, sure, go with that.”
When good guys show up, the bad guys kill themselves. What a coincidence that he offed himself right as the guard also fired. So you’re saying the armed guard was not a deterrent, sure, go with that. https://t.co/ejQqvaRvR5
— Dana Loesch (@DLoesch) March 27, 2018
Shareblue writer Eric Boehlert mocked Loesch for calling Gaskill a “deterrent.”
deterrent: a thing that **discourages** or is intended to **discourage** someone from doing something.
hint: shooter wasn't deterred from killing fellow student even tho he knew school had armed guard https://t.co/Vtw7KZeCYn
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) March 27, 2018
So are the Twitter warriors above correct? Does the fact that the Maryland shooter killed himself negate the narrative that the school resource officer saved the day? Did they totally own Loesch and the NRA?
No. Let’s examine why not.
1. They Fired at the Same Time — And What That Could Mean
The shooter fired his gun at the same time as Gaskill. That’s why it required an investigation to determine whose bullet killed the shooter. That also means it’s quite likely that the shooter decided to kill himself upon seeing Gaskill approach. The St. Mary’s County sheriff’s office report backs up this conjecture. As reported by the Sun:
Rollins parked his car at 7:50 a.m. and walked through the school’s main entrance two minutes later.
At 7:57 a.m., he approached classmate Jaelynn Willey, 16, and shot her once in the head with his father’s Glock 9-millimeter pistol. That bullet also struck 14-year-old Desmond Barnes in the leg.
After firing the handgun, Rollins kept walking through the school, where he was confronted by school resource officer Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill just after 8 a.m. Their weapons went off simultaneously 31 seconds later, with Rollins shooting himself in the head and Gaskill shooting Rollins in the hand, officials said. (emphasis added)
It’s not unusual for criminals to kill themselves once law enforcement closes in. Austin bomber, anyone?
2. Gakill Credited With Preventing More Deaths, Injuries
Let’s recall what St. Mary’s County Sheriff Tim Cameron told us about Gaskill’s actions. As the AP reported last week, “Cameron credited Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill with preventing any more loss of life.” This was before anyone knew whether it was or Gaskill’s bullet or Rollins’ own that killed Rollins.
Cameron also praised Gaskill’s timing last week, saying he responded within a minute. According to the timeline above, it may have been closer to three minutes before Gaskill actually engaged the shooter, but the point remains: Gaskill responded quickly.
So what does this tell us? Gaskill’s superiors credited him with lifesaving action because of his quick response to the threat. That praise was not contingent upon whether it was technically Gaskill’s bullet that killed the shooter. They acknowledged that without Gaskill, there was “no question” whether more lives could have been harmed.
3. What Ifs and Deterrents
As we’ve noted, “Rollins kept walking through the school” after he shot Willey. Had his intention been simple murder-suicide, why wouldn’t he have killed himself immediately after shooting her?
Think of what could have happened. As he walked through the school, it could have turned into a Parkland repeat, with multiple deaths and injuries. Especially if he’d been able to walk around with a loaded gun for minutes on end, as the Parkland shooter was. While Willey’s death is still one too many, we can be thankful that multiple lives were not lost, as they easily could have been.
In that sense, Loesch is right to call Gaskill a “deterrent.” By confronting the shooter, he deterred him from potentially killing many others.
We Need More People Like Gaskill
If anything, what happened in Maryland last week continues to prove why we need even more trained, armed adults in schools who can quickly engage an active shooter. Seconds make a life-or-death difference. What if Gaskill hadn’t responded fast enough? Would Rollins have taken more lives? Or would he have committed suicide anyway, without harming anyone else? Thankfully, we’ll never know.
In this particular case, it’s true: the mere presence of an armed guard on campus did not keep the shooter away. That in itself is no argument for the lack of armed adults who are trained to engage and stop an active shooter.
But people like Follman, Watts, Reid and Boehlert apparently don’t want to think about any of that. Because once you buy the lie that guns are inherently evil, it becomes a lot harder to admit what people with common sense know: good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns.
Deputy First Class Blaine Gaskill is a hero, and the latest investigation results don’t change that.