What to Do when you find yourself under Attack in Shopping Mall or School

Heavenly Love & Earthly Love - Giovanni Baglione

By Stephen Cheney

This short article outlines some important tools for survival, is not meant to cover the 
subject comprehensively.

To protect as many innocents on an attack site as possible, in practical terms a number of fundamentals must be in play. A terrorist or, as may be more commonly expected, an attack by a manic or violent troubled soul, may use explosives or guns. We will focus on a gun attack here. It must be said that there is a vast difference between a random, say mugging, attack in the street and an attack at a target site. Resources that are not possible to have available in the street, may be made readily available on a known target site. Target sites can be Defense facilities, shopping malls, schools etc. As Defense facilities hardly need advice on defense, we will focus on the last two examples of civilian sites: shopping malls, schools, or similar areas, and call them here Site or Sites.

What assistance can officials offer? In regard to schools, if teachers are unarmed, how are they to protect the children/students in their care? A guard or two cannot reasonably cover a whole institution. If the authorities are worried about teachers in classrooms carrying guns, then perhaps a solution would be that teachers be issued with rubber bullet firing weapons, or similar, that might incapacitate a killer, yet not be very effective in seriously hurting students. Teachers need a mobile phone with a speed-dial setup to their central office.

For survival, or at least a chance of survival, the following fundamentals are recommended (others may be devised):


Terrorists or maniacs with guns wish to mow people down, so they attack sites where people congregate. So it would be beneficial if, when you are in a Shopping Mall or School say, to keep your wits about you. It must be stressed that this means just observing in a relaxed manner, not stressing and shaking one's mind insensibly by wild imagined fears. Especially observe people, not objects (except cars), nor buildings. 
Objects or buildings will rarely attack you. Focus on people who are stationary and who you will go passed, and also on people who are coming towards your area. Those moving away from you can conveniently be discounted. 

One should not be in anxiety, expecting an assault at every moment, as that would be counterproductive to long term awareness. Instead, practice staying relaxed, like a leopard in a tree, with only your senses and mind surveying the scene.


You can stage Plays in your mind and not even have to pay for entry. When you are anywhere you can play with attack possibilities: If in this Site, a gunman now started shooting - what could/would you do? What cover is there? Where are the exit passages? Where can help be got? How can you safely raise an alarm? What communications are available to you? Where are the rest of your family/companions? 

If unarmed, you need to leave the scene pronto. If armed, the same applies, unless you can take out the attacker without getting killed, and there may be more than just one attacker hidden from your view. A shooter (unless a sniper) will be moving in order to make contact with as many panicking and fleeing people as possible. If you are armed, trained and proficient, stationary and shooting behind cover: you will have an advantage in accuracy, depending on the range, and on obstructions caused by people in the line of sight.


From Scenario Projections you formulate a Crisis Plan, an emergency procedure. If it is not just for you but for family, then they should not only know it, but be agreeable and mime it. Crisis plans should be simple and flexible to change, for, as Mike Tyson says, everyone has a plan, until they get wacked in the mouth. Weapons such as knives, clubs and guns give the advantage in a fight of being able to attack at a distance greater than the victim can. Guns give an especially long distance, which is why armies focus more on shooting than they do on hand-to-hand combat. Distance, or the use of it, wins or loses many fights. So a civilian in an armed conflict best makes use of Distance by fast making distance, by Running from danger. It is a priority for their safety. Know your limitations, as the gunfighter Clint Eastwood would say.

A Plan could be as simple as: Hear/see shots fired; Take cover; and/or get ready to flee in the right direction; decide and move. 

Move things to obstruct a gunman getting access to you if you can (moving to not be seen; close and lock doors; a chair under the doorknob to brace it; simply carrying a doorstopper in your pocket for a door that won't lock). If you are ringing police you should be moving away if you can and continuously watching the scene. If you have a flash camera ready and a gunman turns to shoot you then firing the flash at his eyes may be your only hope, as would be throwing objects at his head. Throwing to distract are desperate measures in a dire situation. Best to plan not to be so helpless in a critical battle, it maybe being your last. A ninja would carry some vision obscuring powder in an easy-to-open container. 

If you have students and a gunman coming to the door, then locking the door and going out the windows would be better than an unlocked door and hiding under tables and in closets. All classrooms should have doors boltable from the inside.


Intelligent people Think ahead in time. Practical people Act ahead of time. Only the stupid and lazy are fully helpless. If you live in a dangerous environment where gangsters operate, a warzone, or work where someone can start shooting at innocents, then getting armed and trained in use is a sensible consideration. Take a First Aid course so you can help others (might also help if able to dress your own wounds). Take a Self Defense course, it may help in a scrap but more importantly it will (or should) teach awareness and your limitations physically. 

With Self Defense skills you may live a little longer than otherwise. Of course training must be frequent, if only for short sessions; and your Self defense application may only involve a good running willingness and ability. Remember that if you can hear shots then you must still be alive, so make your Crisis plan an Action plan, not an obituary. Don't forget to deliberately Breathe slow and deep - if the body is not hyperventilating then it is telling the mind that it is OK and that helps to calm your mind. Be your own best friend and First Aider and calm yourself. You need your mind calmer and active to move your body to safety and not run in the wrong direction. 


  1. Hi Stephen,

    Great start, thank you.
    With all the things that have been going on, from the school attacks in the US to the Mall attacks in Kenya (last year), this post is very à propos. The breathing part is crucial and the observation tips are also very important, so again: thank you.

    I'm looking forward to reading more of your writing. Welcome!

  2. It is a bit too late for me to learn new self defence maneuvers but the rest of the article is very useful indeed. Thank you. Anyway, let us hope that it does not happen ever again.

  3. I like the concept of Club of Shadows, so mysterious. I like this post cause it shows us how not to behave under attack, more often than not people will act as heroes and put their lives in danger. No need! So Mr Stephen offers a sound advice.
    I wish I could be optimist like Mr Rummuser but I'm not cause I know this sort of attack will happen again, miserably. Mr Stephen, congratulations for your post and hopefully we will read more in future.

  4. Stephen, thanks for your tips, they are extremely useful. Didn't know about the relationship between breathing and the mind, so many thanks for that! You are a great addition to this blog and I look forward to reading more your work.
    Max, thought of the week: politicians don't care cause they play with the distracted and uninformed folks who vote for them without asking questions.
    You guys are doing a great job here, Kudos to the whole team!

  5. vOlá, Stephen!

    Our team welcomes you.
    I must say that the survival tips are very interesting and useful; but if one is next to a person out of control say, screaming his/her lungs out: should one slap him/her our one should move away to another place?
    I ask this for, is important to know what to do, when someone is potentially hazardous in such situations.

  6. Hi Lenny.
    It depends on what is happening. If the attackers are close, stopping to pacify a screamer or person in panic is liable to get you killed. It is rather difficult to save any stupid or panicking person in a crisis situation. As in trying to save a panicking drowning person, you are liable to drown also.
    Your attention should be on the attackers and what is happening, not on out-of-control victims. If you save yourself, then, still being alive, you can look at saving others, if it is safe. As in First Aid, you must ensure that you are not in danger before you can progress to trying to save others. Two dead people are not an improvement on one.

    If the screaming person is a loved one or child that you must try for, then I recommend that you do not slap them, but simply pinch their nose hard in-between your first and second fingers of a clenched fist. That should stop the screaming that is drawing the attacker’s attention, you retain the nose clamp and lead the loved one away to safety with you. You can apologize later to the one whom you have offended with the nose clamp, pointing out that at least they are alive to hear your apology. With a nose clamp you can also take a person down to the floor or behind cover, if safer there. There are other methods, but they are more violent and may damage the body.

    The brain registers when the nose airway is blocked and it then stops the voice in order for the body to freely breathe. As in the martial arts, one can use impressions on the nervous system to effect change; some nerve points override others due to evolutionary survival priorities. With a much gentler clamping (pinching) you can stop a child or baby from crying in unwanted moments (if you have a good reason, as a baby/child crying is not unnatural). The Native American plains Indians such as the Cheyenne used that method. They were experts at stealth practices, and needed to move silently to travel safely away from enemies and American cavalry. Sometimes if you love someone and you are the adult who recognizes danger, you must do what you have to: to save a child. My partial definition of child/ adult is that a child does not readily recognize dangers, an adult does. That is a notable difference and thus the responsibility.

    1. Steven,

      Thank you for the security conscious insight. The amazing thing is that many people might look at such advice as common sense. Though as you stated according to Mike Tyson, "Everyone has a plan, until they get whacked in the mouth." And apart from this, many people do not even have what is to be considered, common sense, especially when added stressors are to bare. As you stated, the plains Native Americans were masters of stealth for myriad reasons and understood the body's adaptations. This allowed them to manipulate the physiological adaptations using reason, logic and perhaps our most important asset; our enlarged pre-frontal cortex-decision making.

      The issue I feel many people face is a probability of occurrence standard by which people rationalize the potential for such a random act of violence is minimal to the point that people become content with the "hope" it would not happen. My theory: Through thousands of years of human development, never before have we seen such exponential growth in every facet of our lives. With such growth as the expansion of knowledge, industrialization and the subsequent abridging of cultural phenomena into a world that is seemingly smaller, our brains have not adapted at the same brisk pace as the environment around us. With such a mass overload of information and the influence on emotion, some people become stressed, overwhelmed and consequently, we will be seeing great violent occurrences. If such attacks are proportional to what they may have been 10's of thousands of years ago, I do not know. My guess would be that they are: Human nature has always had violence written in the genetic makeup. What must be understood is that people in this era, seem to be detached, and unaware of the evils that potentially lurk in such close proximities. It is not a hope, but a responsibility to one's self and community to protect and defend and assume the responsibility that at one point in time not long ago, one could literally not live without. Important sense of awareness and principled understanding of the importance of protecting one's own.

  7. Lenny asked a very pertinent question and I thank Stephen for his response, nose clamping is totally new to me; so that would make a panicking person silent? I hope to never have to try it but if it happens now I know what to do, that's for sure!
    I think Stephen is a wonderful addition to this blog, we can learn a lot from him! :-)

  8. I like the way this Stephen dude thinks. Yeah, only stupid people are lazy and leave everything for last. I used to be against weapons but not anymore so I'll follow your suggestion and get a piece and training, we never know do we? First aid course: check. Self defense: check.
    Great start, club of shadows.


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