In March of 2021, the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) conducted a study focusing on 67 disrupted school violence plots between 2006 and 2018. Their report, Averting Targeted School Violence: A US Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against School, provided invaluable information about who plans an attack against a school, what weapons and methodologies might be used, and perhaps even why these students consider turning to violence.
Perhaps the most vital statistic from the study is that 94% of the potential perpetrators had shared their intentions about carrying out an attack beforehand. What’s also critical to consider is the modality by which they documented their intentions: The vast majority shared their plans online or through messages on devices.
The NTAC study also found that 96% of the time, firearms were the weapon of choice for carrying out potential acts of school violence. Other key findings involved characteristics common to those who had plotted an attack. These students often:
- Had a history with school discipline or have had contact with local authorities
- Had been bullied, were depressed or suicidal, or may have been struggling with mental health issues
- Intended to commit suicide during the attack
- Were using drugs or alcohol
- Were impacted by adverse childhood experiences
Knowing all this, what can we do to help reduce or prevent school shootings? And now that most districts have gone 1:1, how can we monitor, intervene, and implement strong mitigation and prevention strategies to ensure student safety?
We sat down with Michael Graham, a Lightspeed Safety Specialist, to get his perspective and learn how helped stop a potential school shooting. Michael has over 20 years of law enforcement experience, has worked as an SRO for three years, and was a D.A.R.E instructor within his district.
Michael, we know that reporting concerning behaviors or activities is critical to mitigating the risk of a plot being carried out against a school. What’s been your experience throughout your career in law enforcement and working as an SRO?
Many students don’t reach out to their teacher or other school staff members for help when they’re in crisis, or when they may see someone else in crisis. From my experience in law enforcement, people, in general, do not reach out for help. Many don’t realize the resources for help that law enforcement has access to or could provide.
There have been a lot of changes in education in recent years, especially involving 1:1 device use and remote learning. Are there any new developments in potential school violence that administrators should be aware of?
At the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year, we saw an increase in the number of alerts for violence. This was shocking, as we had been seeing a lot more concerning posts specific to self-harm during the pandemic because students were feeling isolated, or not getting the support or services they may have received on campus.
What was even more alarming was the age of some of the students, and what they were planning. One alert that came through was a first-grader who was talking about bringing a gun to school. He was on a chat platform with another student and stated that he had a gun and planned to bring it to school. It was concerning because as I went through the chat history, the student gave details about where the gun was located in his home, and it was clear that this was meant as a threat to the other student. After reviewing the chat, I immediately escalated the threat and contacted the district safety official. They were able to intercept the student and prevent a potential school shooting. This incident validated the findings that these students are documenting and sharing their plans for violent acts online and with their peers on school-issued devices.
What makes Lightspeed Alert™and your role as a Student Safety Specialist both critical elements of a prevention program?
Lightspeed Alert is a 24/7/365 proactive monitoring tool that allows me to support districts in identifying students who may demonstrate physical violence, cyberbullying, suicidal ideation, or self-harm. Student Safety Specialists, like myself, are looking for red flags that may not be otherwise caught. We’re highly trained to read between the lines and review students’ web searches and written text to make a determination if intervention is needed.
The job can be stressful, but I enjoy being a Student Safety Specialist because it’s a proactive way of protecting students. When I receive an alert in real-time, and the alert is valid and needs to be escalated, I know I can contact the district’s designated safety teams within minutes. I wish this software was around years ago when I was in law enforcement, but I’m proud to work for a company that creates products that have and will continue to save lives.
Take steps to prevent suicides, cyberbullying, self-harm, and violence
Lightspeed Alert is an early-warning threat detection solution to help schools prevent suicides, bullying, and school violence.
Our extended cloud integrations and smart agents scan and detect concerning online indicators and send detailed reports to designated school staff for timely intervention. Extended cloud integrations enable schools to detect these threats across Microsoft® 365, Apple®, and Google® for Education productivity apps.
Lightspeed’s patented AI technology and 24/7/365 human review work together seamlessly to analyze alerts and escalate imminent threats in real-time for appropriate intervention. Lightspeed Safety Specialists, like Michael Graham, have backgrounds in the police force, investigation, and mental health, and are further trained by both threat assessment and suicide prevention experts.