Columbine. Heath. Marshall County. Newtown. Parkland.
Locations forever seared into Americans’ minds after school shootings there and elsewhere in the country scarred those towns.
Scott County law enforcement and first responder agencies conducted a training exercise at Scott County High School Tuesday to prepare and try to keep Scott County off that list.
The Georgetown Police Department coordinated the training that included the Scott County Sheriff’s Office, Georgetown/Scott County EMS and EMA/OHS, area fire departments, the FBI and others, and discussed how to prevent school shootings and showed the documentary “Echoes of Columbine.” Afterwards, T.J. Hanna, supervisory special agent at the FBI office in Lexington, talked about what the crucial identifiers are to try and prevent mass shootings in schools.
“The FBI understands the importance of identifying active shooters before they happen,” he said. “We don’t want to first find out about an individual the minute they come through the door with a firearm intending to do harm to our kids, teachers or community. So our effort is to push to identify these folks before it happens.”
People can call or email the National Threat Operations Center to report what they have seen or heard someone say that could lead to violence, Hanna said.
“We have an obligation to look into every single one of these calls. We have to identify, look through and determine if they are a real threat,” he said.
“For a school system or anywhere that is viewed as a soft target to those individuals wanting to do harm, the first time you think about how you would react to an active shooter is not when you are first confronted with the threat.
“This effort encourages local enforcement and first responders to talk to local schools so that when that bad thing is happening that isn’t the first time you have talked about it.”
Hanna also said schools are encouraged to set up threat teams with local law enforcement.
“We all have students inside a school that are identified as a bit different, have behavioral issues or made statements,” he said. “What that threat team does is look at some of the different indicators, comments and see if they reach the level of contacting law enforcement or getting the family involved. What we have learned is that the family is hugely important in stopping something. They are usually indications of an individual wanting to do something bad way before it happens. Afterwards when we go to the family and discuss what happened, they tell us we noticed all these things happening; we just didn’t pay attention to it.”
“Echoes of Columbine” specifically looked at what happened at the Colorado high school in 1999 and what law enforcement officials learned from it and how it has changed tactics in stopping a shooter. The video stressed that while school shootings are not predictable, they are often preventable by learning what the indicators are of a person who may be considering a violent act.
Experts on the video said Columbine is seen as the origin story for other shootings and that it has become mystical to people who make a pilgrimage to Columbine making it their mecca. They study it, watch videos of it and diagram it. Columbine gave a template and a challenge to exceed it. Shooters that followed often cited Columbine in their manifestos or online writings.
One characteristic pointed out on the video was Columbine is viewed as the beginning of the “Beta revolution where the rejected males take revenge on the alpha males and females” experts noted.
There is also a lot of misinformation about the Columbine shooters. They were not bullied or outcasts or victims, and websites need to quit glorifying them as being victims, the video stated.
It is not easy building a profile of a school shooter, and may even be impossible. Experts on the video stated that you can’t say every kid wearing black, is a loner, wears trench coats, is narcissistic, depressed and plays violent video games is going to be a school shooter because every high school has kids that fit that profile.
However, studies show that many school shooters do share common characteristics:
— Perceived injustices and collects and nurtures grievances and feel like they are victimized because they got kicked off the debate team or girls won’t have sex with them;
— looking for 15 minutes of fame and make a statement about their frustration and see examples in the media;
— 25 percent of attackers had a diagnosis of mental health issues and 61 percent showed signs of undiagnosed mental illness
— instability in home life, financial issues, suicidal risks
Over 75 percent of mass shootings, including school shootings, spend months planning their shooting and often give clues to those around them, the video stated. For example, behavior changes, recklessness and aggression. If you see someone start showing obsession in weapons and past shootings, disengagement from employment and schoolwork, that should be a warning sign. They often broadcast what they intend to do, including legacy tokens explaining why they want to do the violent attack, such as blaming girls for not being attracted to them and punishing them for it.
Those experts say there is no evidence zero tolerance works. Threat assessment is a much better indicator. For example, the shooting in Paducah included the shooter actually telling friends not to be in the lobby.
That’s where the threat assessment teams can make a difference by working together to assess and solve a young person’s problem so they don’t resort to violence.
Hanna and other law enforcement officers after Tuesday’s training said tactics have also changed since Columbine.
“There was an officer onsite at Columbine when the shooting started, but he had been trained to wait for the SWAT team to get there,” Hanna said. “For years, law enforcement put together these specialized teams to handle threats. Now, it is more important to engage the shooter as quickly as possible, so we are now training how to enter the building as soon as you can.”
Studies show engaging the shooter results in either the shooter killing himself or law enforcement neutralizing the threat, Georgetown Police Chief Michael Bosse said. Discussion of those tactics were heavily discussed after the Parkland, Florida, shooting where a law enforcement officer was onsite but sat outside the school.
“You don’t know if that was cowardice or lack of training,” Bosse said. “It is a natural adversity to not do something that crazy and dangerous but we have to change that mentality and get in the hallways and engage the shooter.”
Steve MCClain can be reached at email@example.com.