- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 9, 2019

The shooters may have thought they were destined for fame when they attacked the STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, but instead the world is talking about the brave, bespectacled 18-year-old who gave his life to protect his classmates.

Kendrick Castillo is being hailed as a hero. So is Riley Howell, the 21-year-old who died last week after body-slamming the University of North Carolina at Charlotte shooter. And so is Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 61, who was killed shielding her rabbi in last month’s assault on the Poway synagogue.

Not only did their sacrifice help staunch what could have been much higher casualty counts — four people died in the three would-be mass shootings from April 27 to May 7 — but the stories of extraordinary courage have dominated the news cycle, depriving the alleged shooters of the media oxygen needed to achieve lasting notoriety.

Make no mistake, that’s what would-be mass shooters want, said Tom Teves, whose son Alex was killed in the 2012 Aurora theater shooting. He and his wife Caren Teves founded No Notoriety, a group aimed at keeping media mentions of the attackers to a minimum.

“Slowly, people are starting to recognize that the contagion impact is real,” Mr. Teves said. “We’re not espousing censorship. We’re asking for responsibility.”

His group has asked the press to elevate the names, images and stories of victims and heroes while limiting suspects or perpetrators to one reference per story, but no headline mentions and no photos over the fold.

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Such a pledge raises questions about press freedom and responsibility to readers, but the guidelines become easier for media outlets to follow when there are true heroes to cover, and increasingly, there are.

In Tuesday’s shooting at the STEM School, Kendrick and two classmates — Brendan Bialy and Joshua Jones — charged the gunman and wrestled for his handgun. Kendrick was shot and later died, but while seven other students were injured, his was the only death.

“Kendrick went out as a hero,” said 19-year-old Bialy, a close friend. “He was a foot away from the shooter and instead of running the opposite direction, he ran toward it.”

His death came a week after Mr. Howell was shot and killed while tackling a gunman in a UNC Charlotte classroom, knocking him off his feet and ending the shooting. Two students were killed and four injured in the April 30 attack, but police said it could have been much worse without Mr. Howell’s quick action.

At the Congregation Chabad of Poway, California, Ms. Gilbert-Kaye was killed when she stepped between the gunmen and her rabbi. She was the only fatality, but not the only hero: off-duty Border Patrol agent Jonathan Morales and Army veteran Oscar Sweat chased the shooter, forcing him to flee.

They join the growing list of those who have stood up to shooters, such as James Shaw Jr., who in April disarmed the Waffle House gunman in Nashville. Wendi Winters, 65, was shot and killed last year when she used a trash can and recycling bin to charge the gunmen at the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis.

David A. French, senior fellow at the National Review Institute, had a name for the phenomenon: “The Hero Solution.”

“[I]f we can continue to honor and elevate the heroes at the same time that we ignore the killer, so that they don’t enjoy the infamy of their predecessors, perhaps we can start to change the psychology of a dreadful national moment,” he said in a Thursday op-ed.

Such heroism may have its roots in the 9/11 attack, when passengers on United Flight 93 charged the cockpit, stopping the terrorist plot but paying with their lives.

“People have realized it’s no longer a negotiation,” Mr. Teves said. “They [shooters] are not there to get something — well, they are there to get something, they’re there to become infamous. That’s why they’re there. And they’re going to do that by killing you. So if that’s your choice, and you can’t get out, then you’d better do something.”

Doing something isn’t always an option in mass shootings — the Aurora theater victims were essentially sitting ducks — while downplaying the bad guys and extolling the good guys can also be difficult, as shown by last year’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The gunman, who has admitted his guilt, became a household name after widespread coverage of the school district’s lax discipline approach to his frequent infractions, while Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel was ripped when officers failed to rush the building immediately.

“There were heroes in the Parkland shooting,” said Manhattan Institute senior fellow Max Eden, whose book on the massacre is slated to be published in September. “Aaron Feis and Chris Hixon both gave their lives charging at the shooter. But, sadly, they became a footnote to the press in the aftermath.”

He also said the focus on certain firearms, namely the AR-15, in the aftermath of such shootings has drawn attention from the heroes and victims.

“I can’t help but feel that it also has to do with the type of gun used,” Mr. Eden said in an email. “When it’s an AR-15, the story is the AR-15 and there follows a ‘national conversation’ about ‘assault rifles.’ When it’s a shotgun or a handgun, that script can’t be followed and the focus naturally shifts away from the type of gun and toward the men who tried to stop the shooting.”

Copycats took off after the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which saw the two teen gunmen become internationally known after slaying 13 and committing suicide. Dozens of shooters have said they were directly influenced by Columbine, according to researcher Peter Langman, who has connected the dots on his School Shooters website.

“Everyone wants to talk about how they want to delve into these people to see what their consistent traits are to help stop the next one,” Mr. Teves said. “The only consistent trait is they want to be infamous. Everything else is different. It comes up over and over again in the research. To ignore that I think is irresponsible.”

At least two Colorado media outlets have taken the No Notoriety pledge since the Highlands Ranch shooting, while 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted the Aurora shooter, made a plea for less attention on the teenage suspects, both of whom attended the STEM School.

“My request to you as someone who has been in this game too long and dealt with cases of this high-profile nature too often, is to adopt a ‘no notoriety’ approach,” Mr. Brauchler said at a press conference, adding, “Soon, very soon, let us move past focusing on the identity of the suspects and their images, and focus instead on the innocent victims and on this crime and the investigation itself.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

• Valerie Richardson can be reached at vrichardson@washingtontimes.com.

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