What are some warning signs of potential school shooters?

In 2019, the U.S. Secret Service released a list of possible identifiers for students that could potentially become school attackers.
Secret Service identifies warning signs of potential attackers.
Published: May. 24, 2022 at 9:59 PM EDT
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - In 2019, the U.S. Secret Service released a list of possible identifiers for students that could potentially become school shooters. The document outlines everything from motives to how a potential shooter conducts their attacks.

With the recent attack on a Texas elementary school, identifying potential school attackers has become more important. The document stems from decades of research, according to Secret Service Director James Murray.

“For 20 years, the Center has studied these tragedies, and the following report, titled Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence, supports past Secret Service research findings that indicate targeted school violence is preventable,” Murray’s introduction states.

The following are the findings:

There are currently no profiles for a potential shooter. The Secret Service states that attackers in the past have varied in age, gender, race, grade level, academic performance and social characteristics. In the same vein, there is no particular type of school that is more likely to be the target of an attack.

Attackers have had multiple types of motives, but a common one is issues with classmates. Personal issues play a large part in motivating a potential shooter, the Secret Service document states. Romantic troubles, issues with classmates or school staff or even a desire for fame can motivate a potential attacker.

Most attackers use firearms acquired from home. Many attackers have gotten the weapons used in attacks from their home, either from a friend or relative. Access to weapons, even those secured in a safe, plays a huge part in whether or not a student can attack a school.

Most attackers have experience with psychological, behavioral or developmental symptoms. Mental health can play a large part in identifying a potential shooter. The document states that more than half of recorded attacks (as of 2019) involved someone with mental health issues.

Half of all attackers had interest in violent topics. Unexplainable fixations with previous shootings, attacks or hateful groups or people, such as Hitler, could identify a potential attacker.

Most shooters have experienced social stressors with peers or romantic partners. Personal issues, like relationships with peers, authority figures or romantic partners often motivate attacks, according to the Secret Service.

Nearly every attacker had experienced negative home life factors. A negative home life can play a role in motivating a potential attacker. Often, attackers have experienced some form of parental separation, drug use or criminal charges among family members or domestic abuse.

Most attackers have had a history of school disciplinary actions or legal trouble. Inappropriate actions leading to school disciplinary action (like suspension or expulsion) can be identifiers for potential shooters or attackers. Often times, attackers had issues with law enforcement or school punishments because of their behavior at school.

All attackers exhibited concerning behaviors, elicited concern from others or communicated their intent to attack. The document states that there were several warning signs as simple as speaking about their intention to attack a school. In several cases, potential attackers exhibited concerning behavior before making any moves.

The document further outlines strategies for intercepting a potential attacker and mitigating the situation. For example, parents and school officials should take care to note new behaviors in students, odd fixations or troubles at home. While there is not a specific type of person that is likely to become a school shooter, there are trends among past attackers.

Those close to students should pay attention to their home life and potential stressful situations. Additionally, escalating behavioral punishments (like through expulsion or suspension) can also work as motivators for attackers. Instead of focusing on the personal characteristics of a student, those with concerns should instead identify external motivations for attacking a school, like peer relationships or parental issues.

Parents, you can help stop attacks by making sure all household weapons are secured. Invest in a gun safe and keep any keys or passcodes away from children. Access to knives and similar weapons can also motivate a potential attacker.

You can read the Secret Service’s document in full below:

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