My job is to prevent mass shootings. While I knew there was a chance I’d be involved in an incident, I didn’t think it would happen; they’re still rare events. Until last night. I was inside Nationals Park. The Nats just ended the Top of the 6th and the teams were leaving the field when shots rang out.
LESSON #1: IDENTIFY AND LOCATE THE THREAT
Fleeing without locating the threat may put you in harm’s way. The shots sounded like they came from behind me and had an echo to them. My initial thought was that the shots were outside of the park, and I was hearing the sound bounce off the upper deck roofing into the park. The burst or multiple rounds at once indicates the weapon was definitely a semi-automatic rifle. Knowing this reinforced my belief the shots came from outside, as there was no way someone could have brought a semi-automatic rifle through the metal detectors. They would have to enter the gates already shooting and would have been killed by the DC Metro Police who guard the gates.
LESSON #2: DETERMINE THE DURATION AND DIRECTION OF THE THREAT
The next step is to assess if the threat is over or ongoing. If it’s ongoing, are the shots sounding like they’re heading in your direction? In this incident, the shots stopped after the initial bursts, so there was no way to determine if the threat was approaching, but I did think it was over. The fans in the upper deck behind me appeared to be looking over the wall onto the street. This was when I felt it was safe enough to start recording the situation on my phone, about two minutes after the shots.
LESSON #3: DON’T FALL PREY TO HERD MENTALITY
This is where everything went sideways. While I focused on assessing the threat, other fans focused on each other’s behavior to determine where the threat was located and what they should do next. Panic spread, and fans started running toward the center field exit. I saw a surge of fans behind 1st base running toward the field: some jumped onto the field and into the Nats dugout, others ducked for cover behind the seats. This gave the impression the attacker was on the 1st base side concourse, so some fans around me on the 3rd base side dropped and took cover, while others ran toward the exits. I joined in the herd mentality, believing the threat was inside the park, put my still-recording phone in my pocket, and took cover. About 2 minutes later, the stadium announcer said the threat was outside, and everyone should stay inside of the stadium (you can hear the announcement on the video). Everyone got up and sat in their seats, waiting for the next instructions. Shortly after that, they announced that everyone should exit the park.
I saw numerous police and EMS vehicles along the street behind the 3rd base gate, but the walk back to the car was uneventful. There ultimately was no risk to the fans, but the fear was very real. Had herd mentality not taken hold, the mass panic would not have happened. Should you find yourself in this situation, don’t give into herd mentality, focus on assessing the threat. Stay safe.