2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Response to gunmen unpredictable but active-shooter video good conversation starter

Published: April 27, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
The front page of the Peoria Journal Star on Aug. 30, 1989, reporting news of the shooting at Lindy's Villa Tap.

The front page of the Peoria Journal Star on Aug. 30, 1989, reporting news of the shooting at Lindy’s Villa Tap.

042714 Side Streets 3 The angry, disheveled, stocky man roared in the kitchen door to Lindy’s Villa Tap, spotted his estranged wife, Rae Dusch, pointed his .22-caliber semi-automatic handgun and fired.

There was an explosion, screams and the sound of breaking glass as plates of food smashed to the kitchen floor.

Lucky for Rae the bullet missed her as she ran out of the kitchen, past the bar and pool tables and escaped through the front door of the dimly lit tavern.

Unfortunately, the bullet struck my waitress, Hazel “Ginny” Mainer, in the back. Ginny screamed: “My God, I’ve been hit” as she, too, fled leaving the gunman wildly stalking the dining room and cursing.

“Where’s the bitch?” Francis “Frannie” Dusch demanded repeatedly of me and the dozen or so other stunned diners, waving his gun. “I’m gonna kill the bitch.”

It was half past noon on Aug. 29, 1989, and I was an Associated Press correspondent reporting to the Chicago bureau and living in the central Illinois city of Peoria. I was having lunch with two fellow reporters, Toby Eckert and Mike Bailey, both of the Peoria Journal Star.

The memory of Frannie Dusch shooting Ginny flooded back last week when the human resources folks here at The Gazette circulated a new training video for all of us to watch.

The video, produced by the Alabama Department of Homeland Security, is titled “Run, Hide, Fight. How to Survive a Mass Shooting” and it features actors  confronted with an “active shooter” scenario.

The goal was to train employees how to properly react in the event a wild-eyed gunman enters the building. It’s a good idea, I think.

Given the frequency of workplace shootings nationwide, it makes perfect sense to train employees for how to react to a gunman. This type of video is becoming commonplace, in fact, in new employee orientation.

Recently, our own building was on lockdown due to a threat against another office in the building. It was deemed a credible threat by police and we spent a tense day watching and waiting. Though the day passed without incident, it made me think of escape routes from our new office and where I could safely hide if the threat materialized.

So I watched the video with heightened interest.

As the video unfolded I was instantly transported back, in my mind, to Lindy’s and facing Frannie Dusch once more.

In the video, viewers are urged to run from a shooter if a safe escape route is possible.
If not, victims are urged to stay calm, turn off lights and phones and hide from an “active shooter” behind a locked door or a door barred by desks or copy machines or cabinets.

As a last resort, if employees find themselves trapped and a confrontation inevitable, they should arm themselves with any weapon available, such as a fire extinguisher, letter opener or heavy object.

Toby Eckert and Mike Bailey as they appeared Aug. 29, 1989. Courtesy Peoria Journal Star.

Toby Eckert and Mike Bailey as they appeared Aug. 29, 1989. Courtesy Peoria Journal Star.

I thought back to how Toby, Mike and I reacted as well as the diners at other tables when Frannie Dusch paced Lindy’s bar.

I recalled how Toby responded by jumping up and running to the back of the bar and hiding in a corner.

Mike seemed to be in shock and sat at the table confused.

I had a view of the kitchen and saw Rae fleeing and Ginny screaming and running for her life. Then I saw Frannie Dusch and his gun.

Vividly I recall ducking under the table and grabbing Mike by the arm, pulling him under, too, as Dusch paced and swore and vowed to kill his wife.

At the next table, a woman sat in a daze, repeatedly asking: “Is this a joke? Is this a joke? This isn’t funny.”

Then I watched as Dusch turned to her, told her to get up, muttered that he’d show her a joke, pointed his gun and pulled the trigger. But it didn’t fire. He looked at his weapon, glanced around the room and left by the front door.

My last image of Dusch was of him briskly walking down the sidewalk, past the front window of Lindy’s, as a bread truck pulled up and parked to make a delivery. I remember thinking the driver had no idea of his close call with a would-be killer. Dusch then escaped, only to be caught after a six-hour police manhunt.

Meanwhile, I ran into the kitchen to find a phone and call police and an ambulance. I found Toby hiding in a corner. And I went outside to find Ginny sitting on a sidewalk step, a small hole in the back of her white waitress blouse. A single drop of blood dripped from it.

I remember thinking how lucky we all were because I am convinced Dusch would have kept shooting had his gun not jammed.

The subpoena ordering Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin to testify at the trial of Francis Dusch in 1989.

The subpoena ordering Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin to testify at the trial of Francis Dusch in 1989.

The stress of the day continued with a trip to the Peoria Police Department to give detailed statements, to identify Dusch from mugshots and to pick him out of lineup.

Several months later, I would testify against him at trial and help convict him of attempted murder. At trial I saw Ginny for the first time since the shooting. She was in a wheelchair. The shooting had left her paralyzed.

Dusch was found guilty but mentally ill _ on account of his alcoholism _ on Dec. 15, 1989, on charges of attempted first degree murder on his wife and armed violence for the wounding of the waitress. He was later sentenced to 18 years in a psychiatric facility or prison.

I asked Toby and Mike to watch the “Run, Hide, Fight” video to get their thoughts on whether it was valuable.

Today, Toby is a senior state fiscal policy editor at the Washington D.C. think-tank the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He gave the video a mixed review.

Toby Eckert in 2014

Toby Eckert in 2014

“It’s all well and good to give me this information, but when you are suddenly in a situation like that, instinct takes over,” Toby said in an email. “For instance, back at Lindy’s almost everyone immediately dove under a table. For some reason, my first instinct was to stand up and get the hell out of there.

“If I or you or Bailey had seen a video like this first, would we really have acted any differently? Would we have been able to recall the training video in that split second when you have to act?”

Mike, longtime opinion page editor at the Journal Star, agreed that the video has limited value.

Mike Bailey in 2014

Mike Bailey in 2014

“Nothing really ever prepares you for that situation,” Mike told me. “Though I suppose that, given the reality of the times in which we live, it doesn’t hurt to think about it in advance.”

At the time of the shooting, Mike wrote a first-person account in which he observed the various reactions of witnesses.

“My mind failed to grasp the nightmare we’d stumbled into,” he wrote at the time. “Like everyone else at Lindy’s Villa Tap, I soon found myself under a Formica table, thanks in great part of my lunch companion, Associated Press reporter Bill Vogrin. ‘Stay down!’ he barked repeatedly as the gunman . . . paced the restaurant waving his pistol.”

Then he noted how Toby fled and other diners sat bewildered by the gunman.

“Of the three of us, Vogrin kept his head about him the best,” Mike wrote in 1989, “later describing what happened in details I missed.”

I don’t include that to brag (OK, maybe just a little) but to point out that no one reacts the same.

Toby challenged advice in the video.

“If you’re going to run and hide, you better know where the best place to do that is,” Toby said. “When I ran into that back room at Lindy’s, there was no door, nowhere to hide and no way to get out. I cornered myself.”

And he thought the video should have suggested options if a shooting turns into a hostage situation.

Mike said the video offered some smart advice.

“I do think the video has its priorities straight, which is run first, get out of the building if you can — though you don’t necessarily know what awaits you outside, either,” he said.

And to those who will say “if you had been carrying a gun, you could have defended yourselves,” Mike noted that Lindy’s owner had a gun behind the bar. But he froze and never drew it or fired at Dusch.

All three of us agree the video serves one good purpose: it makes people think about the possibility and consider how they should react.

And I think we all agree that every scenario is different and nothing can really prepare you for it.

In fact, the other time I was faced with armed gunmen in the desert outside of Las Vegas, Nevada, the run, hide, fight scenarios wouldn’t have helped me much.

But that’s another column.

Screen capture from the "active shooter" instructional video “Run, Hide, Fight. How to Survive a Mass Shooting” being used to train people how to react to a workplace gunman. Courtesy photo.

Screen capture from the “active shooter” instructional video “Run, Hide, Fight. How to Survive a Mass Shooting” being used to train people how to react to a workplace gunman. Courtesy photo.