Secret Service study finds that school attackers show warning signs

A new study released by the Secret Service this month analyzed 41 incidents of targeted school violence from 2008 to 2017.

It found that all attackers exhibited concerning behavior before the attack, with many making threats that went unreported, either out of fear, disbelief, or someone misjudging the immediacy of the threat.

The report makes it clear that there is no one profile of a student who commits a violent attack at school.

But there are personality traits, things that happen in these students’ lives, and risky behaviors that the attackers have in common.

The report says many of these tragedies could be prevented if students of concern were identified and assessed for their likelihood to engage in violence.

Statistics show 80 percent of the attackers were bullied, and almost all of the attackers were dealing with a family issue at home.

The most common motive involved was a grievance with classmates.

“It’s just a perfect cocktail to kind of set the kid off,” said Hector Tarango, who used to be with the ATF.

The report also states that most of the schools where attacks occurred had security officers, cameras, and drills.

After the Santa Clarita High School shooting Thursday, one student talked about recent drills.

“So we did drill it several times. you think, ‘Okay, let’s practice, but this doesn't happen,” the student said.

School safety is a near $3 billion industry, but the report suggests more could be done.

“Many of these tragedies could have been prevented” if these students had been identified and assessed early on, the report states.

“They’re doing things,” Tarango said. “They’re making threats, and who’s picking up on those? Who’s not reporting on them? We will always see that. And you saw it in the Columbine shooting. Years later, the mother said she ignored those signs. The shooting with Adam Lanza. The mom said the same thing. She ignored those signs. Those signs are there, but how do you pick up on those?”

In response to the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a requirement that every school district in the state create threat assessment programs.

This summer, Arlington ISD launched its program, aimed at identifying at-risk students and intervening.

“If you’ve made it physically safer, what’s the next step? The next step is going into that field to try to identify them more,” Tarango said.

The report also states that three quarters of the attackers exhibited their most concerning behavior two days before the attack.

Those 48 hours of heightened behavior could be considered an important identifier.