What to Look For in School Shootings? A Psychologist’s Perspective with the Mental Health Association of the U.S. Department of Education
Mary Ellen O’ Toole, who has researched school shootings for more than 20 years, said the general public doesn’t know what to look for.
The key is to look out for drastic changes in behavior, said school safety consultant Melissa Reeves, past president of the National Association of School Psychologists.
For some, it’s increased outward behavior. “So we will see an escalation in grievances. An expression of anger. We will see an escalation in difficulty managing their emotions,” Reeves said.
“We’re still seeing significant changes, but they may now be starting to withdraw,” Reeves said. “They’re no longer interacting with groups of friends. They’re starting to spend more time on the internet.”
The art of school shooting: Detecting the bullets coming from friends at the lunch table to learn about a gun shooting… And what do they tell us?
If a teacher learns about a mass shooting from friends at the lunch table, it can be leakage.
“They’re typically done because the offender is really excited about what they’re going to do. Some people say it’s a cry for help … if they’re discovered beforehand, then they could be used for that purpose,” O’Toole said.
They plan it for those who want to violence. They think about it. They fantasize about it. They prepare for it. They’re very happy with all of the time in which that is done. They enjoy it.”
Behavioral Threat Assessment and Management in K-12 Schools: The Case of a 15-year-old Student in Oakland, Michigan, Prior to the 2021 School Shooting
A few days before the 2021 school shooting in Oxford, Michigan, the 15-year-old suspect posted a photo of a gun on Instagram with the caption: “Just got my new beauty today. Karen McDonald is the prosecutor for Oakland County.
By itself, that post is not a cause for alarm. In Michigan, residents under age 18 can possess a gun under certain circumstances.
The morning of the shooting, a teacher found a drawing by the suspect depicting violence and phrases such as “the thoughts won’t stop help me,” “blood everywhere” and “my life is useless,” the prosecutor said.
While a troubling social media post or a disturbing comment in class might not indicate any threat, it’s still worth telling a teacher or school official because others might have additional concerns, O’Toole said.
To make it easier for the students to call in on a confidential line, O’Toole has suggested that the students be educated about red-flag behaviors.
Prevention is based on knowing what warning behavior is, how to spot them and how to use appropriate intervention in an objective and compassionate way.
According to best practice recommendations from the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center and the Department of Education, student messages should be monitored and the information given to a school threat assessment team.
The core team “should include an administrator, at least one school mental health professional (school psychologist, school counselor, school social worker), and a school resource officer (SRO)/law enforcement,” Reeves and colleagues wrote about behavioral threat assessment and management in K-12 schools.
When we do the threat assessment, we often discover that there is abuse going on in the home. Or that one parent just got arrested for domestic violence and they’re sitting in jail. Or the one grandma that was their caretaker who they loved just died. Now they feel that they have nobody,” Reeves said.
Law enforcement won’t need to be involved if a threat is found to be not true, low level, or Transient. School personnel can work with the student and parents by implementing a problem solving and/or conflict resolution process,” Reeves and her colleagues wrote.
If the threat is legitimate and the necessary actions are needed, an officer may become involved in a consultative or direct role. Local law enforcement should be notified of reports of weapons, threats of violence and physical violence.
A Saint Louis Public Schools Student Whose Reading Has a Gun Described as a Video Game, and How to Report It to the School Principal
The student was removed from the classroom and told to go to the guidance counselor’s office, where he said the drawing was part of a video game.
If there is a reasonable suspicion that there is a weapon, schools can search the locker or backpack.
“Self-reported information is some of the least reliable information that you can have. The former FBI special agent said that it was important for them to find other sources to corroborate what the person was telling them.
“So you would certainly want to look for anything else that might suggest that this person is experiencing violent ideation of some kind,” she said. That means talking to the parents, teachers and even law enforcement to see if there have been any reports of incidents at the home.
The team of school psychologists wrote that “These types of consequences should be implemented only after careful team consideration and should always be coupled with supportive interventions.”
On the other hand, keeping the student of concern supervised at school “decreases the opportunity for them to be at home alone where they have more time to conduct research and plan how to carry out the act of violence.”
“We need parents to be more aware of what is happening in their child’s life and what they may have in their possession. We need more school staff to report and also more parent engagement at home, so that they can help when their child is struggling.
The school district said in October that it would add gun safety to its curriculum, after police said a 19-year-old man returned to his former high school and killed two people.
“Not just reading, writing, and arithmetic but reading, writing, arithmetic and gun safety,” Saint Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said.
“It’s the totality of all those behaviors. One person may know what is happening. One person may know, ‘Yeah, I heard that he has access to a gun.’” A separate concern may be reported about the same student by another person.
Reeves said students are often in the best position to notice red flags – whether those clues are on social media, in the classroom or outside of school.
A six-year-old teacher shot in the chest and returned to school: “I was scared, I did not know what to do,” said Novah Jones
Police in Virginia said on January 6 that a six-year-old shot his first- grade teacher. The teacher is recovering from a gunshot wound to the chest and the school has since reopened with new security measures in place, including metal detectors.
Novah Jones, a fifth-grade teacher in a different classroom, told us that after the students were doing math, an announcement said “lockdown, I repeat lockdown.” “I was scared … it was like my first lockdown and I didn’t know what to do, so I just hid under my desk like everybody was.”
The teacher wounded in Friday’s shooting, whose injury was initially described as life-threatening, was listed in stable condition by Saturday, according to the Newport News Police Department.
According to James Madison University, the teacher’s alma mater, she is called ‘Abby Zwerner.’
The 6-year-old boy was taken into police custody, Police Chief Steve Drew told a news conference, adding that this was not an accidental shooting.
There had been an altercation between the teacher and the student, who had the firearm, Drew said. A single round was fired and no other students were involved, he added.
Following the shooting, all students at the school were evacuated from their classrooms with their teachers and taken to the gymnasium, where they were with counselors and officers, Drew told CNN affiliate WTKR.
Though she was able to return home safely, Novah said she had trouble sleeping that night, worried that “he still had the gun and he was going to come to my house.”
Novah is one of numerous children to grapple with the trauma of a shooting at school. While shootings in US schools are still rare, they are now much more common than they were in other countries. CNN reported at least 60 shootings at K-12) schools in the year 2022.
The principal said the elementary school would be closed on Monday and Tuesday to give the community time to heal.
“It is almost impossible to wrap our minds around the fact that a 6 year old 1st grader brought a loaded handgun to school and shot a teacher; however, this is exactly what our community is grappling with today,” Newport News Mayor Phillip D. Jones said in a statement posted on Twitter.
Authorities are “working diligently to get an answer to the question we are all asking – how did this happen? We are also working to ensure the child receives the supports and services he needs as we continue to process what took place,” Jones said.
A group of students on a school bus with a 6-year-old were showing the school secretary a gun and bullets while he was on the bus.
In Pennsylvania, a mother in Norristown was arrested after her 6-year-old son brought a gun to Joseph K. Gotwals Elementary School on February 9, prosecutors said.
Jasmin Devlin, 30, turned herself in Tuesday and has been arraigned on charges of felony endangering the welfare of a child and reckless endangerment for failing to secure a firearm in her home, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office said in a news release. It’s not clear if he has an attorney.
“The school’s secretary immediately brought the boy into the office, looked in his backpack and saw the firearm. She then called Norristown Police,” the release said.
According to the statement from the office of the district attorney, a Norristown man conducted a straw purchase for the gun that was obtained by Devlin. Straw purchases occur when someone buys a gun for another person who is legally ineligible to buy one.
She was ordered not to have any contact with children as part of her bond conditions. The case will get a preliminary hearing on February 24.
In North Carolina, Marvin Ray Davis, 58, was charged with a misdemeanor count of improper storage of a firearm to protect a minor after an unloaded 9 mm handgun was discovered in a 6-year-old’s backpack at Fairview Elementary on Tuesday, according to a news release from the Rocky Mount Police Department.
Davis is not related to the child but did live in the same home, a department spokesperson told CNN. He was released on bond and is expected to appear in court on March 1.
CNN tried to contact Davis, but it is unclear if he has an attorney. CNN contacted the Nash County Public Schools.
The situation should be a reminder for all gun owners to make their weapons safe so that they can’t be used by children. “This was a preventable situation,” he added.
The child’s mother, Letty M. Lopez, of Norfolk, has been charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, and allowing access to a loaded firearm by children, police said. Lopez was released on a criminal summons. CNN has attempted to contact Lopez for comment.
Norfolk Public Schools spokeswoman Michelle Washington told CNN that police arrived at the school after students had been dismissed for the day and other children had been sent home. “School administration immediately enacted safety and security protocols including calling Norfolk Police,” Washington said. The Communications office was contacted immediately by the school administration.
Washington said that the division has invested in school security over the past few years including installing doorbell cameras and requiring background checks for everyone who enters its buildings.
The school board is considering a budget proposal that includes the purchase of weapons detection systems for all schools in the division, upgrading school security cameras, hiring 18 additional security officers, and creating additional security supervisory positions, Washington said.