The Florida school board members and security officer who risked their lives to stop a man who pulled a gun in a meeting Tuesday are being called heroes today. An expert evaluating their fight-or-flight reactions to a life-threatening situation said their instinct was to help others in the room.
Though some had a chance to escape, board members attempted to negotiate with and physically overpower the gunman before he could cause any harm.
In the video that was recording the school board meeting, school board member Ginger Littleton can be seen approaching the gunman, Clay Duke, before attempting to use her purse to smack down his weapon.
"I don't think anything was going through my mind except for the fact that these guys were sitting ducks," she said in a press conference today."They were lined up like pigeons on a wire and I couldn't leave them."
Former NYPD hostage negotiator Wally Zeins said Littleton's response was "a knee jerk reaction."
"She had an instinct, she went in there, she felt concerned. She wanted to help them," he said. "It's like the person who gets that adrenaline rush and someone's pinned under a car and they can lift the car ... and fortunately, no one was hurt."
Littleton said her family agreed.
"I have three wonderful daughters and they said, 'Mom, are you just stupid? What were you thinking?'"
Zeins said ideally, if a hostage-taker gives permission for hostages to leave, they should evacuate and assist first responders.
"You're more helpful because you can give a description, you can talk about the hostage-taker, his train of thought," he said. "Many important intelligence factors come out of the debriefing."
If hostages remain, Zeins said it is important to have a conversation with the gunman in the room.
The school superintendent, Bill Husfelt, tried to give the 56-year-old Duke a chance to talk. He can be heard in the video trying to make a deal with the gunman, saying "Will you let them go? You're obviously upset with me."
Tone, Self-Protection Are Key to Survival
"Tone is very important, you want to get on the same frequency of the hostage-taker," Zeins said. "Lower your decibels."
At first, Zeins said, Husfelt was too argumentative, but when Duke pointed the gun, "the octaves went down and he was more soothing."
Board member Ryan Neeves couldn't articulate what was going through his mind when Duke took aim.
"When you're put in that type of situation where you have a gun faced directly at you, if you haven't been in that situation, you can't understand," he said. "There's no way to explain or describe the feeling that you feel when that happens."
When the bullets started flying, other board members ducked for cover.
That was the right response, Zeins said.
"Just try and be as calm as you can. It's a tough situation, but just be yourself and stay as low as you can," he said.
Duke, standing just feet from his target, did not hit anyone.
"We are blessed to be standing before you today," Husfelt said in a press conference. "We realize this could have been a tragedy of much greater magnitude."