School Shooters Exhibited Unreported Warning Signs, Secret Service Study Finds

November 8, 2019 by Dan McCue
Students are evacuated by police out of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland after the shooting.

WASHINGTON – Students who have committed deadly school shootings in recent years exhibited worrisome warning signs that went unreported to authorities, a U.S. Secret Service study released Thursday says.

The report, “Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence,” is the result of 20 years of analysis of these tragedies conducted by the Secret Services’ National Threat Assessment Center.

Researchers examined 41 school attacks from 2008 through 2017, and had unprecedented access to a trove of sensitive data from law enforcement including police reports, investigative files and nonpublic records.

While the center found there is no single profile that defines a student attacker or the type of school that has been targeted, it did find some commonalities.

For instance, many of the student shooters were badly bullied and had a history of disciplinary trouble.

Most bracingly however, all of the young people who carried out the 41 attacks exhibited concerning behaviors that someone observed but did not report, either out of fear, misjudging the immediacy of the situation, or believing they had dissuaded the attacker.

In most cases, the attackers communicated a prior threat to their target or communicated their intentions to carry out an attack.

In at least four cases, attackers wanted to emulate other school shootings, including those at Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

“While communities can advance many school safety measures on their own, our experience tells us that keeping schools safe requires a team effort and the combined resources of the federal, state, and local governments; school boards; law enforcement; and the public,” said Secret Service Director James Murray in the forward to the report.

“With this study, the Secret Service provides an unprecedented base of facts about school violence, as well as an updated methodology and practical guidelines for prevention,” he said. “We encourage all of our public safety partners and education partners to review the information within, and to use it to guide the best practices for maintaining a safe learning environment for all children.”

The information gleaned through the research will now be used to help train school officials and law enforcement on how to better identify students who may be planning an attack and how to stop them before they strike.

“School safety is our collective responsibility as a nation and we must remain one step ahead of tragedy,” said Dr. Lina Alathari, chief of the National Threat Assessment Center, in a written statement. “The Secret Service mission uniquely positions the agency to equip our schools with the most comprehensive intelligence in the development of prevention and threat assessment programs.”

The Center has already scheduled dozens of training sessions and presentations of the new research in communities across the country, including Chicago, Los Angeles and Miami.

The outreach is similar to the effort the Secret Service carried out following the publication of the agency’s school threat assessment model last year.

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