Four Days after Sandy Hook Tragedy: Live Shooter Drill Hoax in East Harlem, on Nation’s “Most Vulnerable” School Children

On the morning of December 18, 2012 administrators at New York City Public School 79 (the Horan School) in East Harlem conducted an entirely unannounced “active shooter drill.” The event, which took place just four days after the high profile Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown Connecticut, terrified the school’s 300 special needs adolescent and young adult students and the 100 teaching and counseling staff members. Ranging in age from 12 to 21, Horan’s largely Hispanic student body contends with an array of mental and emotional disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy.

Coming less than one week after the Sandy Hook tragedy, the Horan School hoax drill has left many students and staff members severely traumatized and seeking accountability from administrators. With the exception of a pithy article in the New York Times[1] and a subsequent piece in the online opinion outlet Daily Kos,[2] the story has been exempted from the news cycle in the wake of the exhaustive yet often baffling coverage of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. As New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg busied himself with calls for tightened gun control measures, no press conferences were held to either condemn the public school’s management or further scrutinize the rationales behind such drills.

“The lockdown drill began about 10 a.m. on Tuesday,” the Times reports,

with a woman’s voice on the school’s loudspeaker saying, “’Shooter,’ or ‘intruder,’ and ‘get out, get out, lockdown,’” said [a] staff member, who added that it seemed so realistic that it was hard to tell if the woman speaking was actually talking to a gunman or to teachers and students throughout the school.[3], an advocacy organization of Horan School’s teachers, parents, community members and concerned professionals, has been established to demand accountability from the P.S. 79 administrators who planned the event. “Due to age. race, income, language, immigration, geography, and disability,” Horanwatch states, “the public school kids of New York City’s PS 79 are the most vulnerable in the nation.” The affiliation notes that Horan teachers and staff have been retaliated against and warned by administration not to speak publicly about the event.[4]

The group’s account is more detailed and contrasts with the Times’ fleeting glimpse of the incident. calls the event an “intricate hoax,” with news of the phantom shooter circulated “in the most dramatic way possible through every intercom in the building, ‘Shooter/Intruder in the building, oh my God!”

Staff and students were then whipsawed through “contrary messages of ‘Get out’ and ‘Lock down.’” As the school’s occupants “fell to the floor shaking, in prayer, or with their bodies in order to cover immobile students and friends,” some even phoned loved ones to utter what might be a final goodbye. While students crouched in fear Horan administrators reportedly sent security officers into the hallways to push against classroom doors as terrified teachers struggled to keep the doors shut.[5]

The questions remains: Why would major news media virtually censor an event where hundreds of especially helpless individuals were needlessly terrorized by supervisors who took it upon themselves to create an “active shooter” scenario? Where were the convoys of satellite trucks and slick broadcast journalists interviewing the traumatized victims? Why weren’t cable news talk shows abuzz with pundits decrying the needless drill and defending the underprivileged children and teachers?

The simple answers are that 1) Horan’s students are poor disabled minorities—a constituency that is politically powerless, and, 2) no one was injured or killed. These are both plausible explanations for the media blackout. Still, such an event being played up in the immediate wake of the December 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting may have also prompted large swaths of a grieving nation to more critically reflect on both the news media’s often confusing and contradictory representation of the tragedy and America’s growing police state.

Alongside a dearth of publicly available evidence and an ensuing investigation into Sandy Hook that authorities maintain was carried out by a single estranged young man, the Obama administration and its Congressional allies have proceeded to move forward on far-reaching gun control and mental health-related diktats and legislation as if the investigation itself was entirely consistent and transparent.

While Harlan exemplifies the undue excesses of domestic security measures, the Sandy Hook massacre has provided the pretext for increased statist measures with the express goal of heightened safety and security. Public schools do require safety measures to contend with dangerous situations and episodes. Yet imposing terrifying manufactured events such as “live shooter drills” on society’s most vulnerable members—our children—points to an intensifying police state in America where fear vis-à-vis militarized surveillance and control are being gradually instituted under the guise of “safety” to reconstitute normal forms of expectation and existence.


[1] Al Baker and Alex Vadukul, “Lockdown Drill Surprises Some, Scaring a School in East Harlem,” New York Times, December 19, 2012.

[2] “NYC School Stages Hoax School Shooting on 300 Special Ed Kids,” Daily Kos, December 27, 2012.

[3] Baker and Vadukul, “Lockdown Drill Surprises Some.”

[4] “An Open Letter to NYC School Principal Greer Phillips,”, January 19, 2013.

[5] “An Open Letter to NYC School Principal Greer Phillips.”

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About the author:

James F. Tracy was a tenured Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University from 2002 to 2016. He was fired by FAU ostensibly for violating the university's policies imposed on the free speech rights of faculty. Tracy has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the university, with trial set to begin November 27, 2017. Tracy received his PhD from University of Iowa. His work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. Additional information is available at,, and

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