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Initiating a manhunt after an active killer flees the scene

Prompt identification and neutralization of additional threats are crucial to enhancing public safety

Maine Shooting

Law enforcement continue a manhunt in the aftermath of a mass shooting, in Durham, Maine, Friday, Oct. 27, 2023. Authorities are scouring hundreds of acres of family-owned property, sending dive teams to the bottom of a river and scrutinizing a possible suicide note in the second day of their intensive search for an Army reservist accused of fatally shooting several people in Maine.

Matt Rourke/AP

By Major Rich Kuong, USMCR (ret.) and Colonel Richard Herrington, USMC (ret.)

Statistically, 98% of active shooter incidents are committed by one gunman. Typically, the shooter dies by suicide, surrenders, or is fatally shot by police. However, remember the “plus 1 rule.” If there’s one gunman, assume there are two, if two, then three, etc. Hence, police must confirm the number of perpetrators involved as quickly as possible. Until then, police cannot rule out that the threat(s) has escaped.

While some officers will address crime scene issues after the dust settles, the Incident Command Post (ICP) must determine if a manhunt is needed, rapidly! If so, they must alert perimeter officers and concurrently organize/brief police resources (hopefully waiting at the designated staging area and officers still responding to the initial scene). The ICP must then orchestrate a coordinated, overlapping, mutually supporting manhunt.

Timely intel dissemination

Agencies should use the SALUTE report:

  • Size: How many gunmen/accomplices have fled?
  • Activity: Are they hiding/have they fled?
  • Location: What is the last known location/where are they likely to escape?
  • Uniform: What is the description of the gunman?
  • Time: How current is the BOLO information?
  • Equipment: What weapons, equipment, training and escape means is the threat employing?

As the manhunt develops in span of control and complexity, additional intel may be disseminated via the ICP. Policies should identify the hierarchy of agencies that may assume incident command to avoid confusion, give self-deploying officers the reference point to report to, rapidly organize, and ensure unity of command in order to execute an effective manhunt.

Searching urban and wooded areas

Consider your search area. Is it an urban city, a suburb, rural terrain, on water, or any combination of the four settings? Each area presents its own unique challenges and skill sets to enable an effective and prudent search.

If the gunman is an experienced hunter or has serious tactical skills, is in a wooded environment and possesses night vision, you need to rethink your equipment, training and skill level to negotiate that terrain, especially at night, if you don’t have night vision, thermal or infrared scopes. Team leaders should consider deferring to officers better-trained/equipped officers to search the area. Check egos at the door, be honest with your capabilities and focus on the mission.

Your kit

Pack your kit to travel light while ensuring you have all you need to search/patrol for 12 to 16 hours. Must haves include your primary and secondary weapon, extra magazines, water, power bars/MRE, radio, duty gear, ballistic protection, GPS or map and compass. Nice-to-haves include extra flashlight, extra batteries, adequate clothing (should the weather drastically change), at least one extra pair of socks, knife, field binoculars, night vision, chem lights, chalk or large grease pencils for marking, soft cover (hat), gloves.

NOTE: Though probably a guaranteed no-go within law enforcement, consider employing smoke grenades. This would be invaluable for an officer down in an open situation. In addition to fire superiority, you can manufacture your own concealment while you drag a wounded officer to cover to administer buddy aid.

General movement techniques

When moving to contact indoors, in a wooded area, or outside buildings whether in a formation, single file, or walking on line to sweep an area, even with an overwatch element, ideally move from some form of cover/concealment to another that you could sprint to within 2-3 seconds. Since you’re trying to make contact with the gunman, you’re potentially walking into the kill zone of his ambush. Be a difficult target because he’ll probably see you first.

Speed, light and noise discipline are critical. Unless you make contact, avoid quick, jerky movements that will attract attention. Always maintain 360-degree (even 3D) situational awareness. The shooter(s) could be anywhere. They will try to engage you everywhere, except from your front. Finally, maintain personnel accountability at all times!

Routes and control features

Sketch your team’s area/patrol route for the ICP. Use prominent terrain features you can recognize day or night as rally/check/linkup points and radio your progress into your reporting senior. Backup needs to know where to find you quickly. Know who’s also searching on your left and right, especially in wooded terrain, at night.

Strike team leadership

Leadership encompasses everything from keeping officers hydrated/rested/trained (during downtime) to personnel accountability, security and tactical employment. For example, if you have a four-officer strike team, we recommend you number officers 1 through 4. Point is #1, you’re #2, you have #3 and #4 (rear security) is your assistant strike team leader. If you split your team up, 1 and 2 stick together while 3 and 4 go where you direct them. Both elements will have leadership but your assistant still reports to you. Finally, keep the ICP informed and communicate with adjacent units. Share intel. You’re all on the same team. Good luck, stay safe!

About the authors

Colonel Herrington USMC (ret.) and Major Kuong, USMCR (ret.), have jointly immersed themselves in consulting, educating, informing and training first responders, private security, military personnel, schools and hospitals, and city and municipal agencies in various projects, table-top and full exercises, and active shooter and hostage rescue preparation/response training since 2004. This article is a concise overview of switching gears to a manhunt from active shooter response. For information/details, they can be contacted at 781-223-3979,,