School Shooters Were Often Bullied And Told People of Intentions to Attack, Secret Service Report Finds

The study is the most comprehensive look at school attackers, looking at incidents from 2008 to 2017 for clues on how to handle students in crisis.

In the most comprehensive study of deadly school attacks since the Columbine tragedy in 1999, the U.S. Secret Service found that most students who committed campus attacks were bullied and had a history of disciplinary issues that went unreported.

The report issued on Thursday by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center analyzed 41 school attacks from 2008 to 2017 with the goal of helping train school officials and law enforcement to identify and address students who may be planning attacks. Researchers got to work shortly after the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

One of the most striking takeaways from the study is that most of the violent attacks were preventable because the student had “communicated their intentions” to carry out a violent act, according to the study.

"In many cases, someone observed a threatening communication or behavior but did not act, either out of fear, not believing the attacker, misjudging the immediacy or location, or believing they had dissuaded the attacker," researchers wrote.

Attackers usually had multiple motives rather than fitting a certain profile of a school shooter, the study found. Those motives included grievances with classmates or school staff, emotional issues regarding romantic relationships, or a desire to commit suicide.

All student attackers experienced a stressor in the days or months leading up to the incident, the researchers found. A smaller portion of students had behavioral or developmental issues that played a role in their decision to target a school.

There was not a specific profile for schools that were the sites of attacks, according to the report. Most campuses had security measures in place, such as video surveillance cameras and lockdown procedures. But only 17 percent of those schools had a system for students to file a report about a classmate who was experiencing severe mental health issues or other crises.

Officials should be on alert for students who show signs of an interest in weapons and violence or increased bouts of anger, depression and isolation. Self-harm and sudden behavioral shifts are also signals that a student could turn to violence at school.

Lina Alathari, the head of the center that conducted the study, said there are a “constellation of behaviors and factors” that lead a student to carry out a violent attack on a school campus.

"These are not sudden, impulsive acts where a student suddenly gets disgruntled," Alathari told the Associated Press. "The majority of these incidents are preventable.”

About the Author

Haley Samsel is an Associate Content Editor for the Infrastructure Solutions Group at 1105 Media.

Digital Edition

  • Campus Security & Life Safety Magazine - September October 2019

    September/October 2019

    Featuring:

    • Security Technology is a Top Priority
    • HERO Unit Provides School Security
    • Confront Active Shooters
    • Run, Hide, and Let Law Enforcement Fight

    View This Issue