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School Shooting | Spokane, WA
Spokane School Shooting

Freeman High School Shooting
- September 13, 2017.  Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich’s message at a press conference after the fatal school shooting at Freeman High School in Rockford, WA.  

Sheriff Knezovich spoke to the Spokane community,
sharing his own thoughts about what he thinks is a culture of violence that makes senseless violence a norm. This Sheriff is known for speaking candidly about issues that he feels strongly about.  Much of the discussion at the press conference concerned his thoughts on society and school shootings, why they happen, and what he thinks has to happen to change that.

“We have another tragic situation, where a young man decided to go and kill some of his friends. Why? Because we have a culture that said, 'It's OK.'  And you need to start fixing that.

“Folks, you are going to find that I am very much not politically correct, and the older I get, the less my filter works. 

“We have developed a system within our schools that those teachers and those administrators and everything else are so handcuffed and so hamstrung, that they can't deal with the issues that they need to deal with; because we have put so many restrictions on their ability to control their classrooms, to keep people that shouldn't be in school, out of school.

"Don't be blaming the schools for this. 
Blame yourselves.  You're the ones that put the restrictions on them.  Take a hard look at what you've got, because we have some kids that are in need of some very severe help, and we as a society are not giving them that help. If anything, we are enabling them. So take a hard look at what you are seeing here. You're not going to hear me tap dance about this. You've got a mess out there.  We created it. You need to figure out how to fix it.

“This is a situation that plays out in our society way too often, and we as a society, need to make a determination as to 'What's causing this?'   Because, I can tell you that 35 years ago isn’t that long ago, and we didn’t do that.  

“Where did we really go sideways in raising our kids?   Perhaps, we taught them to glorify the wrong things.  All of this violence they constantly consume, has come home to pay a major price. 

“It is time for each and every one of us to say, ‘No more’ to the hate that we see, and to the violence that we see.  We have now a culture where people think that they can dress in black and go out and commit all kinds of acts of violence in the name of trying to get their own way.  That’s not who we are, folks.  That is not the way the system was designed.  We deserve as a society, and quite frankly our kids deserve, much better than we have given them.  It is time for you to wake up.  No more hatred.  No more radicalized hate.  None of this is going to make any sense; because you can’t make any sense of the senseless, and this is just senseless violence.

“That young man (suspect) was carrying an AR15 and a handgun.  Thank God he had jammed that AR up so badly, that it was not going to function.  He transitioned to that pistol, and when one of the classmates that he knew came up to him and tried to talk him out of it, he put one round in his midsection and one round in his head.  He then indiscriminately started firing, striking three other classmates, who thankfully are now recovering in the hospital. 

“That young man (Sam Strahan who tried to stop the suspect from firing at their fellow students) who gave his life, stepped into the breach that we as a society have created, to save his fellow classmates.  

“The next hero in this is the janitor, Joe Bowen.  As soon as Joe saw the situation, the shooter luckily had run out of ammunition, had thrown his pistol down, went like this (arms out), and Joe confronted the shooter, ordered him to the ground, and then held him there. 

“The school Resource Deputy was in the middle school, which was right across the street from the high school.  He did what he was trained to do.  He ran towards that gun fire, went into that school alone, and helped Joe take that suspect into custody.  That school Resource Deputy and that school and that community have a special relationship to the point that a few years ago that community named a day after that deputy.  They love each other, and that’s the way it should be.  Maybe that’s what we need to teach our kids any more, some of that old school stuff, Love One Another. 

"We now have a 15-year old in Juvenile that will be going in front of a judge.  All indications are that the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office plans to recommend the 15-year old shooting suspect be prosecuted as an adult and charged with premeditated murder, because this young gentleman got sucked into a counter culture of violence, a culture that is enamored with school shootings. 

“And media, you are to blame for that, ‘cause you keep giving these people headlines.  You keep using their names.  In using their names, you have made them heroes to some people.  If I had my way, none of these people’s names would ever be remembered.  The family’s name would be remembered.  Joe’s name might be remembered, but not the shooter’s.  Until we start treating these people for what they are - killers, not heroes - they’re going to continue this violence.  It needs to end.  If we are going to have a peaceful society, you (media) need to help us end this violence. 

“You (media) have glorified cultures of violence. You have glorified the gang culture.  You have glorified games that actually give you points for raping and killing people. Guns haven't changed. We have changed.

“To those in the political world, ‘Knock it off!  Enough!’  Both the right and the left.  You are both enamored by a radicalized hate.  You seem to hate everybody and everything.  It’s time for you to end that, too; because we, the American people, desire better than what you are giving us, and it’s time we demand better than what you are giving us. 

“We have a community that is in mourning.  We still have a funeral to go to.  This will be a long process.  But I will tell you, if I could, I would have you all experience what that mother experienced yesterday, and what every police officer and every student and every parent experienced yesterday, when she found out her son wasn’t coming home, because there's nothing like that scream.  You will never forget it. I have heard it one too many times.  My heart goes out to her, because she lost her husband 3 months ago also.  Half of her family is now gone, part because of senseless violence.

“If there is something (the media) want to communicate to the American public, it is the true aftermath of these shootings, which is the victims, not the shooter.  Maybe that is what you need to focus on, because maybe you will influence the next kid that wants to do this, when they see the carnage they leave behind, because that is what this is, is carnage.  We do not deserve this as a nation, and it is time to put an end to it. 

“There is a message to those who see (violence) coming (and don’t speak up).  You need to prevent that. 

“Here is the problem though.  We have made doing what is right - wrong.  Because the minute one of these kids goes in and says ‘Joey is going to do something,’ they get labeled what?  A snitch.  We have made doing what is right - wrong.  So, we need to teach those kids that if you see something like this, we need to know.  If you see something like this on Facebook or social media, we need to know.  We are not mind readers. 

“We need to train our kids to do the right thing, rather than create a culture where, if they try to do the right thing, they are chastised.  If you see it, talk about it, but don't label them.  And kids, if you see it, you need to speak up, because it may be your friend that you save. You can't be afraid of losing a friend, because you don't know how many friends it could cost you.  But that is one of the things we definitely need to make sure our kids understand, that it's OK to do the right thing, they are not a snitch, its doing the right thing.  “We are not mind readers folks. We need to know that before we can do anything, but at the same time the system needs to allow us to do things.

“We (law enforcement) had no knowledge of this matter, no prior knowledge.  I would love to have known, because maybe we could have done something. That's not a guarantee, because what would we have done?  We would have gotten a hold of mental health.

"I don't blame the local mental health either. They don't have the money to deal with this, because the State has abandoned them.  They have pushed this problem to the local level, and the local levels are not equipped to deal with it. This is a state and national issue, and they had better wake up and start dealing with it.

“Quite frankly this is another example of the mental health system in this country collapsing around our ears. And perhaps those elected officials who control those monies can funnel a little bit more to help these people out, because our mental health system is collapsing.

(Regarding the toll that it takes on law enforcement)  “These are things that we live with on a constant day-to-day basis. The toll that it takes on us?  Ask the deputy that stepped into my office three weeks ago and said, "Boss, I can't do it no more." And he is laying down 15 years of a career. Because he can't do it anymore, because of the violence that he has seen, because of what is going on in this nation.  And folks, when we start giving up, you are in trouble!

“For those of you in the greater Spokane area, when your kids come home tonight, I hope you give them a kiss, and give them a hug, because they came home. There will be one young man who doesn't come home, ever again."

(Source:  News Conference:  “Spokane Co. Sheriff:  Media, government and society to blame for school shootings," KREM 4 TV News, September 2017,
Additional Resources
  • SURVIVE an ACTIVE SHOOTER incident.  Training for individuals and groups in Spokane County.   All work places should have plans for dealing with Emergencies, including an Active Shooter.  FREE TRAINING by an expert. 
Spokane Co. Sheriff’s Deputy Chris Johnston
Crime Prevention Unit
(509) 389-2771
email: crjohnston@spokanesheriff.org