Preventing School Violence- Part 1

by todaystrainingblog

August 14, 2012

A beautiful spring day the sun is shining, birds are chirping, and the laughter of young adults abounds across the campus, as they wander about during lunch. No one expects the coming storm.  Figuratively, dark storm clouds begin to form. The class loser is walking across the parking lot with an angry look on his face. He’s wearing a long overcoat, but nothing unusual for this guy. He’s been in a sour mood since his sophomore year, when his parents got divorced and his dad moved across the country. His attendance has slipped and he’s even been expelled once for bringing a knife to class and making threats.

But over the last 2 years he’s become a loner, and even started wearing Goth clothes although he doesn’t hang with them. A recent fascination with handguns has startled his mother, but she’s working 3 jobs to keep them fed. And the neighbors seem to losing small furry pets lately.

A few of his friends know that he’s been sick a lot to. But they don’t hang out much anymore because he rarely takes a bath anymore. And boy howdy he gets defensive if you try to talk to him. Come to think of it, he’s been seen with the druggies as of late.

And it’s been overheard that he’s been tripping and walking into stuff a lot. And get this his teachers say that his grades are a yo-yo; they’re not consistent from week to week or even day to day.

He’s walks into the school and hunkers his overcoat on his neck, his sour expression making him a path. He positions himself in a group of students. Someone remarks that he stinks. He bellows a yell that is guttural, throws back his coat and unloads a full clip into the one who said it.

An instant of stunned silence falls before the depths of hell pounces its rage out on another high school. When it’s all over dozens lay dead and wounded, including the shooter.

The blood splatter on the wall and removing the carpet is easy. Restoring the sanity of students and parents will not be. And what do you tell those parents when they show up at the school or hospital?

Fortunately, this is a scenario that most of us as security professionals will never have to face. But it’s just as frightening even if the chances are remote.

As security professionals, we plan for such events on a daily basis. We train, read, organize, and attend seminars. We plan and meet with administrators. We try to encourage good security habits amongst the staff. Simply put, to do our jobs. And still it happens. In December 2007 Junior Achievement, in conjunction with Deloitte and Touché, released a survey with some startling statistics in it. We may be in for a wild ride for a while.

The survey , which was intended for the workplace but translates well to our schools, stated the 39% of 13 to 18 year Old’s believe that that lying, stealing, and cheating were acceptable ways of getting ahead.

That’s startling enough, but 23% said that some level of violence against a co-worker is acceptable. If it is acceptable against a co-worker, what does that make it against another student?

If we agree that there are approximately 50 million school age children in the United States. Half of those are considered elementary K-6, so that leaves roughly 25 million students ages 13-18. And the survey number is 23%, allowing that roughly 5 million students believe that some level of violence is acceptable! And remember that violence takes many forms, from bullying to verbal assaults.

Most of us would have seen the warning signs in the scenario I started with. But, over a period of a few years, would we just accept the fact that that student is who he is and leave him alone? I point them all out here and they are easy to spot.

But, even we will rack things like this up as ‘aw, that’s just the way he is, no harm done’. The warning signs are always there no matter what anyone states.

After the shooting at NorthernIllinoisUniversity, a lot of the talking heads were stating that they were no warning signs. But even while they took place over a period of months, not many people would have caught on.

The most glaring is the fact that he changed his political affiliation in the spring of 2007. And at the same time decided he wanted to start buying firearms, when he was not a weapons person, despite his time in the military.

The warning signs are always present, but as I say in my workshops and to my clients, it’s whether we choose to act upon the signs or ignore them that make the difference. If we act on them, especially in the early stages, we might be able to prevent similar incidents.

Does this mean that every kid that discovers an interest in Goth attire and make-up is a candidate for a Columbine style attack? No. Some kids are just in the process of discovering themselves and need a little latitude.

When should we start to get worried and think about the next Steven Kasmerjik? Well it is when we start to notice four, five, and six of the warning signs. One or two of the signs mean absolutely nothing but, when they start to add up it’s time to start to worry. And with our example above, they may creep into the student over a period of years. And so subtlety that we may not notice, much like crab grass and dandelions.

So what are those warning signs? Well, I have discovered 18 that apply to most school shooters. Do all of these signs apply to everyone? No. Matter of fact, most shooters display only about one third to one half of these signs, and again, they appear over a period of years.

Here is the list that I have found. I’m sure that you can probably add your own or slight changes in mine to adapt to your schools. We do not have space to discuss these in detail, but I will explain a few. In the next edition of this blog. And if you want a full description, you’ll have to go back to January at the other site ( and read them there.

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