by Valerie Strauss, Washington Post
Most students who have targeted schools for violence told peers about
their intentions in advance, meaning that some future school shootings may
be preventable because the planning is detectable, a federal study says.
The analysis of 37 incidents of targeted school violence between 1974
2000 concluded it is impossible to develop accurate profiles of potential
school shooters because no set of traits describes them all. But there were
warning signs of an attack, according to a final report of the study
conducted by the U.S. Secret Service and the Department of Education and
released this week.
"In almost every case in this study, attackers behaved in ways that
caused others concern," Education Secretary Roderick R. Paige said in a
statement. "Many had difficulty coping with a major relationship change
loss of status among their peers. Many threatened or tried to commit
suicide. And many felt desperate, and others knew that."
The analysis also determined that the attackers did not typically act
impulsively. In nearly two-thirds of the incidents, more than one person
information about the attack before it occurred. In nearly all cases, the
person who knew was a friend, schoolmate or sibling; an adult had
information in only two cases.
It is important, the report concluded, for educators, police and other
public safety officials to break down barriers that prevent students from
telling adults such information and to develop the capacity to evaluate
information that might indicate risk of an attack.
Several states have passed laws making it easier for schools to share
student information with officials trying to determine whether a student
might be planning an attack.
The Department of Education and the Secret Service are completing a
publication that will provide school administrators and law enforcement
officials with guidance on implementing a threat-assessment approach in
schools. Starting this month, the agencies will hold training seminars
across the country for officials to learn more about how to identify, assess
and manage students who might pose a risk.
A second report on school shooters released yesterday revealed
differences in the social context and motivation of offenders in suburban,
rural and inner-city schools. The six case studies were conducted by the
National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council at the request of
In the suburban and rural incidents, the offenders felt no physical
threat from the students they targeted, it said. Incidents in inner-city
schools involved interpersonal disputes in which the shooters believed their
lives were in danger.
The report also said that because it is impossible to develop profiles
would-be shooters, more effective methods of keeping firearms away from
adolescents must be found.