Today's Paper Obits Newsletters Home Style Crime High School Sports NWA News Quiz Razorback Sports Today's Photos Puzzles
ADVERTISEMENT
story.lead_photo.caption “These are not sudden, impulsive acts where a student suddenly gets disgruntled,” said Lina Alathari, head of the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. “The majority of these incidents are preventable.” More photos at arkansasonline.com/118bully/

WASHINGTON -- Most students who committed deadly school attacks over the past decade were bullied, had a history of disciplinary trouble and their behavior concerned others but was never reported, according to a U.S. Secret Service study released Thursday.

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. The research was started after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

The study by the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center is the most comprehensive review of school attacks since the Columbine shootings in 1999. The report looked in-depth at 41 school attacks from 2008-17, and researchers had unprecedented access to a trove of sensitive data from law enforcement agencies, including police reports, investigative files and nonpublic records.

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

Gallery: National Threat Assessment Center's Chief Lina Alathari announces the release of report examining targeted attacks in schools

[GALLERY: Report released examining targeted attacks in schools » arkansasonline.com/118bully/]

"These are not sudden, impulsive acts where a student suddenly gets disgruntled," Lina Alathari, the center's head, said in an interview. "The majority of these incidents are preventable."

The fathers of three students killed in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High attended a news conference Thursday in support of the study.

Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina Rose Montalto, died, said the research was invaluable and could have helped their school prevent the attack.

"My lovely daughter might still be here today," he said. "Our entire community would be whole instead of forever shaken."

Montalto urged other schools to pay attention to the research.

"Please, learn from our experience," he said. "It happened to us, and it could happen to your community, too."

Nearly 40 training sessions for groups of up to 2,000 people are scheduled. Alathari and her team trained about 7,500 people during 2018. The training is free.

The Secret Service is best known for its mission to protect the president. The threat assessment center was developed to study how other kinds of attacks could be prevented. Officials use that knowledge and apply it in other situations, such as school shootings or mass attacks.

Since the Columbine attack, there have been scores of school shootings. Some, like Sandy Hook in 2012, were committed by nonstudents. There were others in which no one was injured. Those were not included in the study.

The report covers 41 school attacks from 2008-17 at public schools. The cases were chosen if the attacker was a current or recent former student within the past year who used a weapon to injure or kill at least one person at the school while targeting others.

"We focus on the target so that we can prevent it in the future," Alathari said.

Nineteen people were killed and 79 were injured in the attacks they studied; victims included students, school staff members and law enforcement officers.

The Secret Service put out a best practices guide in July 2018 based on some of the research to 40,000 schools nationwide, but the new report is a comprehensive look at the attacks.

The shootings happened quickly and were usually over within a minute or less. Law enforcement officers rarely arrived before an attack was over. Attacks generally started during school hours and occurred in one location, such as a cafeteria, bathroom or classroom.

Most attackers were male; seven were female. Researchers said 63% of the attackers were white, 15% were black, 5% Hispanic, 2% were American Indian or Alaska Native, 10% were of two or more races, and 5% were undetermined.

The weapons used were mostly guns, but knives were used, as well. One attacker used a World War II-era bayonet. Most of the weapons were from the attackers' homes, the investigators reported.

Alathari said investigators were able to examine detailed information about attackers, including their home lives, suspension records and past behaviors.

There's no clear profile of a school attacker, but some details stand out: Many were absent from school before the attack, often through a school suspension; they were treated poorly by their peers in person, not just online; they felt mistreated; some sought fame, while others were suicidal. They fixated on violence and watched it online, played games featuring it or read about it in books.

The key is knowing what to look for, recognizing the patterns and intervening early to try to stop someone from pursuing violence.

"It really is about a constellation of behaviors and factors," Alathari said.

The attackers ranged in age but were mostly young adults, seventh-graders to seniors. More than three-quarters initiated their attacks after an incident with someone at school.

In one case, a 14-year-old shot a classmate at his middle school after he'd been mocked and called homophobic names. The attacker later reported that the victim made comments that made him uncomfortable, and they were the final straw in his decision to attack. Seven attackers documented their plans, and five researched their targets before the attacks.

Thirty-two were criminally charged, with 22 charged as adults. Most took plea deals. More than half are incarcerated. A dozen more were treated as youthful offenders. Seven killed themselves, and two were fatally wounded.

Alathari said the report shows that schools may need to think differently about school discipline and intervention.

The report does not weigh in on political topics such as whether guns are too accessible or whether teachers should be armed.

She said the goal is to make schools a safer place where no more attacks occur.

Photo by AP/CLIFF OWEN
Parents of school shooting victims Peter Langman (from left), Susan Payne, Max Schachter and Ryan Petty listen Thursday in Washington as U.S. Secret Service officials release a study on ways to identify and stop students who may be planning an attack.
Photo by AP/CLIFF OWEN
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina Rose Montalto was killed in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., wears a bracelet with his daughter’s name on it. “Please, learn from our experience,” he said. “It happened to us, and it could happen to your community, too.”

A Section on 11/08/2019

Print Headline: School-attacks study finds similar threads

Sponsor Content

Comments

COMMENTS - It looks like you're using Internet Explorer, which isn't compatible with our commenting system. You can join the discussion by using another browser, like Firefox or Google Chrome.
It looks like you're using Microsoft Edge. Our commenting system is more compatible with Firefox and Google Chrome.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT