No child of the future should become a child of the past.
Mass shootings have unfortunately become a trend in America. However, school shootings have become a phenomenon that has escalated from being simply unfortunate to truly egregious. The primary purpose of educational institutions is to help students lay the foundation for lifelong learning, growth and success.
Regrettably, schools have increasingly become a target for mass shooters in recent years, putting the most vulnerable and innocent students at risk. As a result, students are exposed to acts of senseless violence, terrorist attempts, threats, illegal activities and conspiracies.
Educational institutions funded and operated by all three levels of government, local, state and federal, are no exception to this rule and are equally exposed to the risks associated with such heinous incidents.
In addition, it is essential to note innocent children primarily populate schools. However, mass school shootings not only pose a threat to students but also create fear and anxiety among educators, administrators and anyone associated with academic institutions. This disturbing trend significantly impacts the overall perception of schools and educational institutions.
The uncertainty of profiling school shooters
There is no accurate way to profile the perpetrator or predict if a student is likely to become a mass shooter. Profiling school shooters is a complex task due to several factors. First, they come from diverse backgrounds, including different races and ethnicities, age groups and family backgrounds. They range from 11 to 28 years old and have varying academic performances.
Additionally, there is no universally agreed-upon definition of a mass shooting, as different organizations and researchers define it differently. This makes it challenging to establish consistent criteria for profiling.
Furthermore, the motivations behind mass shootings can vary greatly. While mental health issues are often associated with mass shootings, it is essential to note that only a small percentage are directly linked to severe mental illness. Other factors, such as social isolation, extremist ideologies, personal grievances, or a desire for notoriety, can also play a role.
Identifying individuals who may become mass shooters before they commit an act of violence is exceptionally challenging, as warning signs or risk factors are not foolproof indicators of future violent behavior. Many individuals who exhibit similar characteristics or experiences as mass shooters do not go on to commit acts of violence.
Moreover, the way mass shootings are reported in the media can have an impact on the potential for copycat incidents. Extensive coverage and sensationalism of mass shootings can contribute to a contagion effect, where previous acts of violence may influence individuals seeking attention or validation. Efforts to prevent mass shootings should focus on a comprehensive approach that includes addressing mental health, social isolation, extremist ideologies and implementing effective gun control measures.
The stereotypes attached to school shooters are often students who are socially isolated and considered “weird.” This portrayal has emerged from various sources, including the media, anecdotal accounts and societal perceptions. These stereotypes are not based on empirical evidence or comprehensive research but on generalizations and limited observations.
Media portrayals of school shooters often focus on socially isolated individuals who exhibit unconventional behaviors or are perceived as outsiders. These portrayals can contribute to the stereotype that school shooters are “weird” or socially marginalized. However, it is essential to note these portrayals do not represent most individuals who may pose a threat.
Anecdotal accounts and personal experiences may also contribute to forming these stereotypes. When incidents occur, people may retrospectively describe the shooter as “weird” or socially isolated based on their limited interactions or observations. These individual accounts can reinforce the stereotype and perpetuate the belief school shooters fit a specific profile.
It is crucial to recognize these stereotypes are not accurate or representative of all individuals who may pose a threat. Relying on stereotypes can lead to biases and hinder practical threat assessment and prevention efforts. To effectively address the issue of school shootings, it is crucial to focus on comprehensive threat assessment, early intervention and support for students who may be struggling. By adopting a proactive approach and providing resources and assistance to students in need, schools can create a safer and more inclusive environment for all students.
Remember, it is essential to approach the topic of school shootings with sensitivity and avoid perpetuating stereotypes that may stigmatize individuals who are already marginalized. However, these traits do not necessarily predict whether a student is likely to have thoughts of committing such an act.
Other factors such as grades, home life, personality and mental illnesses may contribute to such behavior. It is essential to note that school shootings are rare in American schools, representing less than 1% of homicides among children aged 5-18. From 1999 to 2006, 116 students were killed in 109 school-associated incidents, according to a report by the National Institute of Justice.
It is important to note that while school shootings are rare, they significantly impact students, especially if their peers are killed in such incidents. These events cause shock, outrage and controversy due to the setting and nature of mass shootings. They also create a ripple effect of mistrust and illegitimacy, leading to questions from people worldwide about the incident.
In this regard, the Secret Service’s term “targeted violence” is crucial to understanding mass school shootings, as it means the attacker picks the location of the attack before carrying out harmful actions. Such attacks are not impulsive decisions but are thought out and constructed by the attacker, usually because they are either bullied, mentally ill or had an issue associated with that school they could not cope with.
According to the American Counseling Association, school shootings are primarily caused by two factors: bullying (87%) and non-compliance or side effects from psychiatric drugs (12%). Most school shooters claimed or left evidence indicating they were severe and long-term bullying victims.
In such cases, most bullying victims experienced humiliation, leading to thoughts of suicide or revenge. The second leading cause of school shootings involves the effects of psychiatric drugs or mental illness, which can cause cognitive effects and deficiencies.
In NPR’s “School Shooters: Understanding their path to violence is key to prevention“, Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist, states, “Adolescent school shooters, there’s no question that they’re struggling and there have been multiple failures in their lives.”
These children are often socially awkward and have existing behavioral or mental issues that worsen over time. External factors, such as bullying, and internal factors, such as low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and mood swings, play a role in the child’s perspective of school and peers.
The National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime has also noted students who lack positive constraints may be more likely to develop aggressive behavior patterns due to anger or resentment towards others, a lack of healthy relationships, or academic struggles in school.
Aside from school, students can experience the same abuse in their homes from parents or relatives. With the child suffering from abuse in various settings, their rage slowly reaches a breaking point and thoughts of revenge soon become action.
The harsh reality of school shooters
In the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Adam Lanza, the shooter, was 20 years old at the time of the attack. Lanza attended Sandy Hook as a child. Although he could have been bullied, isolated, or even humiliated by his peers, the children he attacked did not bring any abuse or harm to Lanza. Furthermore, this observation would raise the question of Lanza’s motive for targeting and killing first-graders.
Since there is no “accurate” profile or construct for mass shooters or serial killers, the motive is theoretical, which results in inconclusive results or assumed logical reasoning for attacks. The only logical explanation is that an irrational decision was derived from the shooter’s psychological state and adverse worldview.
In studies regarding Lanza and the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, investigators, psychologists and experts analyzed Lanza’s writings, drawings, online activity and behaviors. They concluded through his art, he expressed depression and fantasies of murder, suicide and incest.
Lanza even had a “five-second video (dramatization) depicting children being shot” on his computer, according to a Connecticut state’s attorney report on the incident. A paper published in The Journal of Campus Behavioral Intervention states, “Documenting his apparent fascination with killing children, however, does explain this interest or sheds light on why he chose to kill children.”
The analysis of the video found on Lanza’s computer is a clue indicating his desire to murder children but is not conclusive as to his psychological motivation. Also, it does not directly suggest whether he would shoot up a school, but his infatuation with children could lead him to do so. Lanza also co-wrote a series called “The Big Book of Granny,” depicting the grandmother’s son shooting her in the head with a shotgun. A decade later, Lanza shot his mother and went on a killing spree.
Though the analysis of Lanza’s art and behavior provides evidence of possible motivation for the murders, but is ultimately inconclusive as to why he chose his former elementary school. The reality of school shootings is that these occurrences happen unexpectedly; the shooter could be anyone, have no motive and will still consciously take the lives of innocent children.
How educational institutions can improve student safety and well-being
School shooters rarely decide their course of action impulsively. “For example, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold spent more than a year preparing for their attack at Columbine High School. Time was spent obtaining and modifying guns and their attack was timed to be on the anniversary of Hitler’s birthday. School massacres were rarely impulsive or spontaneous attacks,” according to a paper published on school shootings in Sage Journals.
The nature, context and setting of a school shooting will require a mass shooter to have several motivations, preparations and targets for the attack, along with the decision to act, killing and injuring students. The degree of violence and effects of mass shootings require more than an impulsive decision.
Educational institutions and the Department of Education should note children will discuss or show other peers their thoughts and plans regarding a school attack. Though students discuss or may tell someone they will harm an individual or the entire school, there is a distinct difference between expressing threats and engaging in threatening behavior.
“Although some attackers did make threats, most did not threaten their target directly. The researchers indicate it is helpful to distinguish between making a threat (telling people they intend to harm someone) and posing a threat (engaging in behaviors that indicate intent, planning, or preparation for an attack),” according to a U.S. Secret Service report.
School educators, administrators and parents must be aware of a child who poses a threat and directly assess the student’s difficulties instead of waiting until after the attack has occurred. This approach allows for early intervention and support, potentially preventing harmful incidents.
One way to address potential threats is by establishing threat assessment teams in schools. These teams are responsible for evaluating and managing potential risks posed by students. Under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), schools or school districts may disclose personally identifiable information (PII) from educational institutions without consent to threat assessment teams.
Threat assessment involves a comprehensive evaluation of a student’s behavior, social interactions and other relevant factors to determine the level of risk they may pose. By identifying students of concern, schools can implement appropriate interventions and support systems to address their needs and mitigate potential risks.
It is important to note that school shootings are rare but significant events and other types of problems are more common in schools. However, it is crucial to be proactive in identifying and addressing potential threats to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff.
Benefits of proactive assessment
Taking proactive action for threat assessment and addressing student complications offers several benefits. By identifying and supporting students who may be at risk, schools can:
- Prevent incidents: Early identification and intervention can help prevent potential threats from escalating into harmful incidents.
- Provide support: Students struggling with various challenges can receive additional support and resources to address their difficulties.
- Create a safe environment: By actively addressing potential threats, schools can create a safer and more secure environment for all students and staff.
Implementing proactive measures
To effectively assess and address potential threats, schools can consider implementing the following measures:
- Establish threat assessment teams: Schools can form multidisciplinary teams of educators, administrators, mental health professionals and law enforcement personnel to evaluate and manage potential risks.
- Develop clear protocols: Schools should develop clear protocols and procedures for threat assessment, including guidelines for identifying students of concern, conducting assessments and implementing appropriate interventions.
- Promote open communication: Encouraging open communication between students, parents and school staff can help identify and address potential threats more effectively.
- Provide training and resources: Schools should provide training to educators, administrators and other staff members on threat assessment techniques, recognizing warning signs and implementing appropriate interventions.
- Collaborate with community resources: Schools can collaborate with community organizations, mental health professionals and school counselors to provide additional support and resources for needy students.
By implementing these proactive measures, schools can create safe learning environments with more support for all students while also addressing potential threats in a timely and effective manner. Remember, the safety and well-being of students should always be a top priority and proactive assessment and intervention can play a significant role in ensuring a secure learning environment.
Another approach is to implement extensive security measures, such as surveillance cameras around every door where individuals enter the school building, police personnel on school property and time-based updates concerning the safety of the school.
In addition, having armed security or designated administrators with access to a firearm in a school setting is controversial. This policy should be managed with proper training and provisional guidelines. When considering guidelines and training for staff members to keep firearms at school, it is crucial to prioritize safety, responsible firearm use and the well-being of students.
When prioritizing student safety, several provisions can be put in place:
- Comprehensive background checks: Staff designated to carry firearms should undergo thorough background checks to ensure they are suitable and responsible individuals.
- Firearm training: Staff members should receive extensive training in firearm safety, handling and marksmanship. Certified instructors should conduct this training and should include regular refresher courses.
- Mental health evaluation: Staff members should undergo various mental health evaluations to ensure they are mentally stable enough to handle the responsibility of carrying a firearm in a school setting.
- Strict storage and access protocols: Firearms should be securely stored in locked containers or safes when not in use. Access to firearms should be limited to authorized personnel, with strict protocols to prevent unauthorized access.
- Continued professional development: Staff members should participate in ongoing professional development and training related to school safety, threat assessment, de-escalation techniques and crisis management.
- Collaboration with law enforcement: Schools should establish strong partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to ensure coordination, training and support in the event of an emergency.
- Regular drills and simulations: Schools should conduct regular drills and simulations to practice response protocols and ensure staff members are prepared to handle potential threats effectively.
- Clear policies and guidelines: Schools should develop clear policies and guidelines regarding the use of firearms, including rules of engagement, reporting procedures and accountability measures.
- Regular evaluation and review: The program’s effectiveness should be regularly evaluated and reviewed to identify areas for improvement and ensure compliance with established guidelines.
It is important to note the decision to allow staff members to carry firearms in schools is a complex and sensitive issue for students, parents and staff themselves. It requires careful consideration, stakeholder input and adherence to local laws and regulations. The guidelines and training should be suited to the specific needs and circumstances of each school community.
The last practice that could benefit any educational institution is to set up a school district mobile phone app for parents and guardians on behalf of the school. That enables parents to check in and verify their child and the reason for coming to the child’s school for administrators to expect and know who will potentially visit the school. Upon arrival, the digital app can let parents notify the school where they have arrived, parked, or any other parties with them.
Setting up a school district mobile phone app for parents and guardians is a beneficial practice for any educational institution. Here are three reasons why:
- Enhanced communication and safety: The mobile app allows parents and guardians to check in and verify their child’s presence at school, providing administrators with accurate information about who is expected to visit the school. This feature promotes safety by ensuring that only authorized individuals have access to the school premises. Additionally, the app can enable parents to notify the school of their arrival, parking location, or any other relevant information, facilitating efficient communication and coordination between parents and school staff.
- Streamlined administrative processes: The mobile app can streamline administrative processes by digitizing various tasks. For example, parents can use the app to submit permission slips, access school calendars, view announcements and receive important updates from the school. This digital platform reduces paperwork, enhances efficiency and improves the overall experience for parents and guardians.
- Parental involvement and engagement: The mobile app can serve as a platform for fostering parental involvement and engagement in their child’s education. By providing easy access to information, resources and communication channels, the app encourages parents to stay informed and actively participate in their child’s academic journey. This increased involvement can positively impact student success and create a stronger school community.
It is important to note when implementing a mobile app for parents and guardians; schools must ensure compliance with relevant privacy laws, such as FERPA and the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. These laws protect the privacy and security of student information and require schools to obtain appropriate consent and provide notice to parents regarding the collection and use of personal data.
Remember, using a school district mobile phone app can be a valuable tool for improving communication, safety and parental engagement. However, it is essential to prioritize data privacy and security while adhering to applicable laws and regulations.
There are various ways to upgrade the safety of educational institutions and prevent school shootings. There are innumerable resources to provide better protection for students and educational institutions. Evaluating, analyzing and implementing extensive preventive measures to prevent school mass school shootings has the power to save lives, create meaningful learning environments for students, and, most notably, the ensure a better future of our society.
Edited by: James Sutton