Anonymous Reporting Can Help Fight School Shootings

By Paul Langhorst                       December 17, 2012

FBI School Shooter Report

Click the image above to download "The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective" from the FBI.

The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week has reignited intensive review and debate over school safety measures, with the central question being, “What can be done to prevent these horrific school shooting incidents?”

The solution is not simple. These events are often random, fast moving, multidimensional and further mitigated by mental health issues and easy access to lethal weapons. Furthermore, most school shootings are perpetrated by current students, where a student’s behavior and actions are observable by faculty and peers prior to the shooting. However, in the case of Sandy Hook, the shooter was not a student, making any form of forewarning that much more difficult.

If your school or organization is seeking information to help review your school safety and crisis plans in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy, we suggest you start with the FBI’s “The School Shooter – A Threat Assessment Perspective.” This is an easy-to-read document based on a review of 18 school shootings. This report stresses that there is not a “one size fits all” solution to identifying school shooters and evaluating school threats, lays out a 4-point frame work for threat assessment, and shares conditions that are often associated with school shooters.

In addition, the FBI school shooter report shares information on the concepts of “signposts” and “leakage” that are supportive of the need for anonymous reporting solutions, such as the CyberBully Hotline, to which students or parents can be encouraged to make a report when they sense something is just not right with a fellow student. Per the FBI, signposts and leakage are precursor conditions present in almost all cases of school shootings.

Signposts: “In general, people do not switch instantly from nonviolence to violence. Nonviolent people do not ‘snap’ or decide on the spur of the moment to meet a problem by using violence. Instead, the path toward violence is an evolutionary one, with signposts along the way. A threat is one observable behavior; others may be brooding about frustration or disappointment, fantasies of destruction or revenge, in conversations, writings, drawings, and other actions.”

Leakage: “‘Leakage’ occurs when a student intentionally or unintentionally reveals clues to feelings, thoughts, fantasies, attitudes, or intentions that may signal an impending violent act. These clues can take the form of subtle threats, boasts, innuendos, predictions, or ultimatums. They may be spoken or conveyed in stories, diary entries, essays, poems, letters, songs, drawings, doodles, tattoos, or videos.”

In light of the horrific nature of these events, your students must be taught that they are an extension of the eyes and ears of your staff. They must be educated on the signs and changes to look for, and it must be continually reinforced that it is okay, and their duty, to report such information for their own safety and the safety of their fellow students. Students are often in the best position to see and hear signs, comments, threats, or writings that could potentially be used to prevent a school shooting. If they have concerns about a fellow student, students must be encouraged and know that it is okay to either talk to an adult or make an anonymous report. This may be at odds with a student’s hesitation to “tell on” someone, but doing so may actually be in their best interest.

If a student is not comfortable coming forward face to face, encourage them to use some form of anonymous reporting to share their concerns. Programs such as the CyberBully Hotline are low cost, extremely versatile, and can be part of your school’s early warning and detection plan.


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