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School Shootings

11 days. 3 mass shootings. 3 heroes. What makes some risk their lives for others?

As shots听fired inside听a synagogue outside San Diego听last month,听Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, put herself in between the shooter and the rabbi and died as a result.

Riley Howell, 21,听charged a gunman who burst last week听into a听University of North Carolina-Charlotte lecture room carrying听a pistol.听He too lost his life to save others.

And Tuesday听inside a STEM school in Denver, Kendrick Castillo, 18, lunged听at a fellow student who had pulled a gun in class, giving his classmates time to take cover.听He was the lone student killed in the attack.

Mass shootings听are now a听nightmarish norm in the听USA,听and yet the听tragedies听often have a common thread听of heroism in them as well 鈥 people whose heralded bravery and听decisive actions helped stop the attacks and听probably saved lives, sometimes at the expense of their own.

More:Kendrick Castillo, hero killed in Colo. school shooting, told his dad he would act if confronted with a gunman

This undated photo provided by Rachel Short shows Kendrick Castillo, who was killed during a shooting at the STEM School Highlands Ranch on May 7, 2019, in Highlands Ranch, Colo.

The nation's听three latest mass shootings, each occurring over an 11-day span beginning听at the Chabad of听Poway temple on April 27, have given us our latest heroes听鈥 just like听shootings at a high school in Parkland, Florida, a Waffle House in Nashville, Tennessee, a synagogue in Pittsburgh and elsewhere did last year.听

What made听these听ordinary citizens, in some cases kids, risk their lives for others? And what is it that will make future heroes undoubtedly do the same? Psychologists point to a wide range of characteristics, including patterns of taking risks and helping others,听to help explain how some people can be so brave.

"You know, our life is all we've got,"听said听, a psychology听professor at Temple University who has studied heroism.听"To put it on the line or take risks where you can lose your life for others is an astounding and profound human behavior."

The most recent act of heroism in the nation's听series of deadly shootings came from Castillo, who just days before he was set to graduate from听STEM School Highlands Ranch rushed a gunman听who was barking orders to stay in place and not move.

"Kendrick lunged at (the gunman), and he shot Kendrick, giving all of us enough time to get underneath our desks, to get ourselves safe, and to run across the room to escape,"听Nui Giasolli, a fellow senior in the room,听told NBC News.听

More:What we know about the Highlands Ranch STEM school shooting in 91影视

Other students, including Brendan Bialy, an aspiring听Marine,听helped tackle听the shooter to the ground. Two suspects are in custody in the Highlands Ranch, 91影视 shooting. Castillo听was killed, and eight students were injured.听

Farley, a former president of the American Psychological Association, said there are "lifelong heroes" such as Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi who commit their lives to a higher calling and听"911 heroes" such as firefighters, police officers and other first-responders. And then there are "situational heroes," who听鈥 like Castillo, Howell and Kaye,听emerge unexpectedly from a crowd during moments of crisis like a shooting.

"It's the most difficult to understand," Farley said of the latter group.

Many situational heroes are risk-takers, not risk-averse, Farley said. He said many also have听traits of generosity, empathy and a desire to help. For some, religion or what they were taught growing up compels them to act听鈥 "You act because it's the right thing to do."听

But听"you can't put all these people all in the same box," he said. "It's a complex behavior. It's one of the least understood human behaviors that we know of."

More:Police escort honors Riley Howell, hero killed in UNC Charlotte rampage

Ronnie Glassman, a clinical social worker and professor at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work at Yeshiva University in New York, said听people who step up as heroes in mass shootings tend to have a "moral center" and have a sense of "moral outrage" as a shooting unfolds.听

"Kendrick Castillo, for him, these are his classmates, and there's that sense that听'I'm going to protect my classmates,'" Glassman speculated. "The morality of that 鈥撎'It's my role. I'm not going to let these people be hurt by someone who doesn't share my moral sense.'"

She likened his possible mindset to the "moral outrage" that she said Kaye would have had when the gunman entered the Chabad of听Poway听synagogue near听San Diego: "How do you dare come into our sanctuary?"

Kaye was the lone person to die in the synagogue shooting. Three other worshipers were injured.听

More:'Lori took the bullet for all of us': Rabbi lauds longtime friend, vows terrorism 'will not take us down'

In the case of Howell, the hero in the Charlotte shooting听鈥 in which two people were killed and four injured听鈥撎鼼lassman noted that he played sports, including cross country and soccer in high school, and had aspirations to become a firefighter or join the military.听

"There's that professional identity 鈥 I'm going to protect, help save," she said.听

There's certainly an element of self-preservation at play, experts say, a quick calculation that the risk outweighs the danger of doing nothing. But if it was just about saving themselves, Glassman said, why would they step in front of a shooter?

Today, with mass shootings now听in the national consciousness for听two decades, most everyone听鈥 regardless of age, income, race or background听鈥撎 has had the chance听to ask how they would react to a gunman.听

Schools, in particular, have hardened to the violent听reality. Shooting drills are now routine听for most students. Some schools have metal detectors.听

Perhaps nowhere is the threat of mass shootings more ingrained than in听Denver, home of this week's听STEM school shooting and听where the 1999 Columbine High School shooting changed a generation. Just three weeks ago, much of 91影视 was put on alert after a Florida woman infatuated with Columbine flew to Denver on the shooting's 20th anniversary.听

"All those kids in that school shooting in Denver were听part of that group that was re-traumatized yet again, and it's uppermost in their mind听鈥 how dare you do this to us again?" Glassman said. "We will not lose. We will fight back."

More:Woman 'infatuated' by Columbine shooting found dead of self-inflicted gunshot wound

In 15% of the 141 mass shootings听from 2000 to 2017 that ended before police arrived, a potential victim of the attack stopped the attack themselves, according to听research听from the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) Center听at Texas State University. In 34 cases, the attacker was physically subdued, and in nine cases the attacker was shot.

Pete Blair, executive director of Texas State's ALERRT, said he believe preparedness has played a role in people stopping听shootings.

Organized training efforts for听shootings have existed for several years, he said. His group has trained more than 140,000 first responders on shooting events since its inception in 2002.听

Blair's group teaches听people the motto听"avoid, deny and defend" during听an attack听鈥 avoid the shooter if possible, deny access if you can't avoid, and defend by seeking out the shooter only if other options are exhausted.

"The fact that you're preparing for these situations means there's a better chance that you'll respond effectively when something happens," Blair said.听

"What we've seen in these last few cases is situations where 鈥 we would call it defending 鈥撎齮hey used听91影视 to try to stop the attack, and听sometimes at the cost of their own lives, but they probably saved a lot of other lives in that process."

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