This Colorado charter school is teaching 6th graders how to fight back against shooters: ‘It’s good but also sad’

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Denver 7

All around the country, students are instructed to, “Run, Hide, and Fight,” if a mass shooter enters their school. Most schools emphasize the first two, but kids at Pinnacle Charter School outside of Denver are getting training on the “fight” portion of the directive.

Students at the school joined together with teachers in the gymnasium where they learned how to rush and tackle an armed shooter. In a Denver 7 video of the training, a simulated shooter roamed the gym floor waving around an orange water gun while teachers rushed him and middle schoolers used their body weight to pin him down. Small hordes of middle school children can be seen dogpiling on top of the shooter. In addition to self-defense, students learned how to barricade classroom doors and perform CPR. The training was conducted by an active shooter preparedness training group called Tac*One Consulting.

In an interview with Denver 7, Luis Marquez, a seventh-grade student at Pinnacle said he was in favor of the drill given the climate of fear surrounding shootings at schools.

“I think it’s good but also sad that we have to learn this just because of society and how crazy it is,” Marquez said.

Pinnacle Charter Schools did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Students are choosing to fight back

This willingness to engage with an attacker comes after two shootings at different schools earlier this year where students died while confronting armed gunmen. One of those cases occurred in early May when 21-year-old Riley Howell, a University of North Carolina college student, tackled a gunman who had entered her class.

The other occurred that same month, not far from Pinnacle charter school, at STEM School in Highland Ranch. In that case, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo pinned a shooter against a classroom room while other students joined in and wrestled the firearm out of his hand. In both cases, it’s believed the actions of the slain students saved lives.

A screenshot of a school shooter simulation from Tac*One's promotional video

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A screenshot of a school shooter simulation from Tac*One’s promotional video
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Tac*One Consulting

Tac*One Consulting, a private company that spearheaded the drills, has taught similar courses at schools in Wyoming and Arizona. Tac*One’s owner, Joe Deedon, told Insider that kids are “the missing link” in school safety. While police, paramedics, and teachers have been learning how to respond to school shooters for years, the kids themselves have largely been left out of the equation, Deedon said. Deedon’s drills, which he said were explained to parents in detail beforehand, were broken up into separate sections for kindergarteners through second graders, third to fifth graders, sixth to eighth-graders, and finally high schoolers.

Even at the kindergarten level, Deedon said, children are already aware of shootings. Deedon said he and his fellow instructors would enter classrooms and ask the children why he was there. Some of the five-year-olds, Deedon remembered, responded: “so we don’t get shot.” The drills vary depending on age, with the youngest children instructed simply to hide and stay quiet in the event of an active shooter. Slightly older elementary school children learned how to use desk and chairs to barricade doors with “the teacher serving as the quarterback.”

It’s only in middle school years that Deedon teaches students to potentially confront a shooter. For those situations, teachers are supposed to take the lead, charge the gunman, and then call on the pre-teens for help. The kids are instructed to “bear hug” each of shooter’s limbs and apply their full body weight to essentially pin the shooter to the ground until help arrives.

“The only way you’re really going to prepare them is to do those drills,” Deedon said. “If they don’t experience it in these simulated environments under a little bit of stress, you don’t know how they are going to react under the critical stress of the real event. The reality is, you don’t know how people are going to react until it [a shooting] actually happens.”

High schoolers, the oldest group Deedon instructs, are given more autonomy and are taught basic hand to hand self-defense. Much of the training for these students, Deedon said, was inspired by the shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida last year. In that case, Deedon argues, most students were only ever taught to shelter in place or lockdown. Rather than wait in the classroom, Deedon instructs high schoolers how to safely escape a building if they get separated from their teachers. When escape isn’t an option, the high schoolers are taught to fight back.

The Tac*One drill teaches high schoolers to get up close to the shooter to try and “control the firearm” and then use their body weight to bring a shooter down to the ground.

“It’s nothing that’s based on fine motor skills or martial arts,” Deedon said. They are easy simple things kids can remember.”

Chad Miller, Pinnacle Charter School’s CEO, told insider the lessons learned from the STEM school shooting played a major factor in deciding to bring in Tac*One.

“Now knowing that they [students] are going to respond, I’d rather have them know how to respond than have utter chaos,” Miller said of the reasoning behind teaching kids to fight back. “I always dissect the incident and see how would we respond.”

While STEM High School and University of North Carolina examples have led some to reevaluate the teaching students to fight back, not everyone agrees with encouraging young people to take on a gunman. In an interview after the STEM shooting with NBC News, Yale University psychology professor B.J. Casey explained how adolescent brains may not react properly when under intense stress. Young people are much more likely to act impulsively, Casey said, and armed with combat training, they may needlessly throw themselves into harm’s way.

Others, like National School Safety Security Services president Ken Trump, worry encouraging students to fight back may inevitably breed “a generation of martyrs.” In an interview with CNN, Trump said young students aren’t cognitively ready to make these life or death decisions on their own and thought schools should stick to more traditional lockdown drills.

Miller said the school still teaches more traditional lockdown procedures but added that sometimes it’s not enough to only rely on locking doors and shutting off lights. When asked about the possibility of traumatizing students with hyper-realistic shooter drills, Miller said the school tried to account for this by offering counselors on sight during the drill. Parents of students and the students themselves could choose to opt-out, but few did according to Miller. The school had worked with Tac*One for the past eight years to train teachers and students how to lock doors and remain quiet if a shooter was present but felt it was time to take the drilling to the next level.

In an interview with The Denver Post, the president of Pinnacle’s school board, Clarissa Burklund said the training was necessary.

“I hate that they [the students] live in this society,” Burklund told The Denver Post. “But they do, and there’s no point in denying it.”

When asked if he worries these drills could have the effect of normalizing shootings in the students’ minds, Deedon, the Tac*One owner said we, as a society, are already there.

“You can put in place all security you want and try and pass any number of legislations but the thing that we can literally do overnight is give every individual various options and build their confidence,” Deedon said. “I guarantee you in ten years this will be mainstream.”

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