Last month, a 60-year-old woman put herself between a shooter and her rabbi in a synagogue outside San Diego. Last week, a 21-year-old University of North Carolina-Charlotte student charged a gunman who had opened fire in a classroom. And this week, inside a Denver charter school, 18-year-old Kendrick Castillo, just days from his high school graduation, lunged at a fellow student who pulled a gun in class.
All three heroes in these attacks died, raising the question: What enables ordinary citizens, young and old, to give their lives for others? USA Today interviewed experts in psychology and security to explore what one expert called “astounding and profound human behavior.”
Risk-taking, empathy, and a helper instinct help explain “situational” heroism, but the phenomenon is more difficult to understand than other forms, said Frank Farley, a psychology professor at Temple University and former president of the American Psychological Association who has studied heroism.
Another factor is the training many students and others have received in recent years to “avoid, deny and defend” during a rampage shooting. In Tuesday’s attack in Highlands Ranch, Co., that left eight victims wounded, Castillo was one of three students who charged the shooter, the Associated Press reports.
Besides Castillo, a student identified as Joshua Jones suffered two gunshot wounds while another, Brendan Bialy, wrestled a gun from the shooter’s hand and the students subdued him. Armed security guard, a former Marine, ran to the area of the shootings and apprehended the second suspect at gunpoint. The two suspects, ages 18 and 16, were students at the school.