Are would-be school shooters among us? Know the red flags
On Wednesday, as we mark the one month anniversary of the shooting rampage at a Parkland, Florida high school that claimed 17 lives, many New Jersey schools are reviewing their security plans and protocols.
Some are considering a program developed after the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2012 that focuses on knowing the signs of at-risk individuals and taking preventative measures before they commit acts of violence.
According to a report by the Sandy Hook Promise non-partisan, nonprofit organization, 80 percent of school shooters told someone of their plans before carrying out their attacks.
Their report indicates there are other possible red flags:
• A strong fascination or obsession with firearms can be a warning sign of a problem that is brewing.
• Exhibiting excessive over-reactions or aggressive behavior for a seemingly minor reason can signal someone who cannot self-regulate emotions or control anger.
• Gestures of violence and low commitment or aspirations toward school, or a sudden change in academic performance can signal someone needs psychological help.
• Perpetrators of self-harm or violence toward others may be victims of long-term bullying and may have real or perceived feelings of being picked on or persecuted by others.
• Extreme feelings of isolation or social withdrawal due to real or perceived actions of others can lead to further withdrawal from society.
• Unsupervised, illegal and or easy access to firearms or bragging about access to firearms can be a warning sign.
• Making overt threats of violence, which include spoken, written, pictures, videos or gestures are signs that should not be ignored.
Sheryl Timpanelli, a nurse practitioner and parent of a Cherry Hill East High School student, is encouraging the Cherry Hill Board of Education to adopt the Sandy Hook red flag program.
“As a medical provider we are trained to recognize certain red flags, and once we do recognize them, there are certain specific actions we need to take, and we need to follow through with them to prevent a disaster,” she said.
In many school shootings, she said somebody knew something ahead of time.
"Many knew a lot of details and had either failed to get that (information) into the right hands .. or there was a failure of follow-through, as in this most recent shooting. (in Florida)," she said.
Timpanelli said red flag education must include students, educators and parents.
She said in many cases, there is no safe anonymous reporting system in the schools, so “if somebody tells you 'I’m going to shoot up the school,' the students are afraid to report it because of retaliation. If that person has a gun, they’re really fearful of that retaliation.”
She said a free smartphone app could be used to let students report red flags in a private, discreet way. Anonymous red flag report boxes could easily be put up in schools.
In both instances, Timpanelli said, a specially trained monitor would review red flag information received.
“Just like we have an anti-harassment and bullying individual, we need an anti-violence individual in schools," Timpanelli said.
That person would get training on “how to figure out if this is a real, true red flag, if it really needs follow-up, and if so what is that follow up specifically going to be," she said.
"Everyone wants to assume school shooters have a mental illness problem or it’s somebody who is socially awkward or somebody who’s bullied," she said. "Those things may be true, but everybody that’s bullied is not a school shooter. “We really need to be able to drill down and know exactly what red flags to look for, not just in school, but online, and it has to be multi-factorial.”
Parents, students and faculty need to all be engaged without falsely accusing just anyone and everyone, "and education is really the key to that," she said.
Timpanelli said having police officers in schools and metal detectors is "somewhat reactionary — but in this modern day in age, it’s necessary.”
She said to increase safety, schools should also be checking student IDs, doors that are not main entranceways should remain locked and more active-shooter drills should take place.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com
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