Many attacks at public schools in the United States could be prevented by identifying students of concern, the U.S. Secret Service said on Thursday in a report that found attackers routinely show troubling behavior that should be reported.
The study, which focused not only on mass shootings but other acts of targeted violence such as knifings, bolstered previous research on the warning signs students often exhibit before committing deadly violence at their school.
The Secret Service, which is primarily tasked with protecting the U.S. president and other elected officials, has analyzed school violence since the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado. Its latest report focused on the decade between 2008 and 2017.
The report did not include the deadliest shooting at a high school in U.S. history, the killing of 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that a lone gunman carried out on Feb. 14, 2018.
The agency found that, in 41 incidents of targeted school violence at schools serving children in kindergarten through grade-twelve, all the attackers experienced some form of social stress in their relationship with peers or a romantic partner and nearly all had a negative experience in their home life.
Most attackers had multiple motives, the report found, and the most common one involved a grievance with a classmate. For 83% of attackers, that was at least part of their motivation and for 61% of them it appeared to be the primary driver.
The Secret Service routinely uses a “threat assessment model” to identify people with a threatening interest in the American president. The agency has recommended schools adopt a similar approach to prevent mass violence.
Many public schools and colleges, in the years since the Columbine shooting and a lone gunman’s killing of 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, have used so-called behavioral intervention teams to identify troubled students.
In the 41 attacks studied by the Secret Service, which all involved a student or former student as the perpetrator, the suspect used a firearm in 61% of the incidents, with bladed weapons used the rest of the time.
The troubling behaviors attackers exhibited included communicating a threat to their primary target or saying they wanted to commit violence, such as by making a video message.
In many cases, someone observed this behavior but did not report it to authorities, the report found.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Lincoln Feast.)