Averting Mass Attacks

The U.S. Secret Service studied 67 planned school attacks that were successfully prevented in the U.S. between 2006-2018 and released their results in a 2021 report titled “Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools.”  

Bystanders save lives

“The takeaway from this report…is that when people come forward to report concerning behaviors, they can and do save lives… that’s the bottom line, here. Bystanders save lives.” (U.S. Secret Service Director James Murray, National Threat Assessment Center (2021). Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools, U.S. Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security). 

Students who plotted school attacks shared many similarities with students who perpetrated school attacks.  Both students (who plotted and perpetrated attacks):

  • Experienced bullying or had mental health issues, frequently involving depression and suicidality
  • Intended or committed suicide as a part of the school attack
  • Used drugs or alcohol
  • Had been impacted by adverse childhood experiences (ACE’s), including substance abuse in the home, violence or abuse, parental incarceration, or parental mental health issues. 
  • Had histories of school discipline and contact with law enforcement

Key findings from “Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools”: 

  • Targeted school violence is preventable, if communities can identify warning signs and intervene.
  • Schools should seek to intervene with students before their behavior warrants legal consequences.
  • Students were most often motivated to plan a school attack because of a grievance with classmates.
  • Students are best positioned to identify and report concerning behaviors displayed by their classmates.
  • The role of parents and families in recognizing concerning behavior is critical to prevention.
  • School resource officers (SROs) play an important role in school violence prevention. In the Secret Service study of averted attacks, the SRO played a role in reporting or responding to a report in 31% of the cases.
  •  Removing a student from school does not eliminate the risk they might pose to themselves or others.
  • Students displaying an interest in violent or hate-filled topics should elicit immediate assessment and intervention.
  • Many school attack plots were associated with certain dates, particularly in the month of April (some plotters selected dates to emulate notorious people/events such as the anniversary of the Columbine attack and Hitler’s birthday on April 20th). 
  • Many of the student plotters had access to weapons, including unimpeded access to firearms.
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