In June 1999, following the attack at Columbine High School, the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education launched a collaborative effort to seek answers to two questions “Could anyone have known that these attacks were being planned?” and, “What can be done to prevent future attacks from occurring?”
The result was the Safe School Initiative, an extensive examination of 37 incidents of targeted school shootings and school attacks that have occurred in the United States beginning with the earliest identified incident in 1974 through June 2000.
The focus of the Safe School Initiative was on examining the thinking, planning, and other behaviors engaged in by students who carried out school attacks. Particular attention was given to identifying pre-attack behaviors and communications that might be detectable and could help in preventing some future attacks.
The findings of the Safe School Initiative suggest that there are productive actions that educators, law enforcement officials and others can pursue in response to the problem of targeted school violence.
Specifically, findings suggest that officials may wish to consider focusing their efforts to formulate strategies forpreventing attacks in two principal areas:
Developing the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available or knowableinformation that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack. Employing the results of the risk evaluations or “threat assessments” in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.
Support for the suggestions is found in 10 key findings of the Safe School Initiative study. The findings are as follows:
Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts. Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker's idea and/or plan to attack. Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack. There is no accurate or useful “profile” of students who engaged in targeted school violence. Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help. Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide. Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack. Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack. In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity. Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.
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