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Students Plotting School Violence Show Worrying Signs

People are lead out of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Santa Clarita, Calif. (KTTV-TV via AP)
People are lead out of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019 in Santa Clarita, Calif. (KTTV-TV via AP)
Students Plotting School Violence Show Worrying Signs
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A new study finds that students who plan attacks on schools are often bullied and act in ways that worry others.

The same warning signs are found in many adults who carry out shooting attacks.

The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center carried out the study. It examined 100 students responsible for planning 67 attacks from 2006 to 2018 in schools across the U.S. Each of the planned attacks were discovered and prevented.

Most of the students researched were angry at other students. Many were suicidal or had depression. Eight wanted to be famous.

More than half of the students were impacted by bad childhood experiences. Many experienced drug dependence at home or their parents had mental health problems. Others planned to kill themselves as part of the attack and used drugs and alcohol.

The schools targeted were in 33 states. Most were public high schools. Thirty-seven percent were in areas near cities and 14 percent were in cities. The plotters were mostly male. Only five were female. The youngest was 11 and the oldest was 19.

Many of the students also showed interest in violence or hate. One-third researched past school shootings. Nine students displayed an interest in the leader of Nazi Germany Adolf Hitler, Nazism or white supremacy.

The researchers found that about 94 percent talked about their plans in some way. Seventy-five percent of plots were detected because the plotters talked about the attacks, either in person or online. About 36 percent were thwarted within just two days of their intended attacks.

“The findings demonstrate there are almost always intervention points available before a student resorts to violence,” said Lina Alathari, leader of the center.

All of the plots studied were serious planned attacks, and the planners took at least some steps toward committing the attack. The people who discovered the plots and told officials likely saved lives.

The report’s findings will be given to more than 11,000 schools and community organizations for training, Alathari said. The goal is to use the information so schools can better identify warning signs. But that does not mean expelling students.

“The study found expelling students doesn’t eliminate the risk,” said Steven Driscoll, one of the writers of the study. Instead, schools should stop bullying and give mental health support.

Some of the students were arrested and faced criminal charges. But the goal of the study, researchers said, was not to identify people to arrest but to identify early warning signs, so that students do not end up getting arrested.

Driscoll said that planned violence, like school shootings, is preventable if communities can identify warning signs and intervene.

“The primary objective is providing a student with help as early as possible,” Driscoll said.

I’m Jonathan Evans.

Colleen Long reported this story for The Associated Press. Dan Novak adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

bully v. to frighten, hurt, or threaten another person

depression –n. a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad and hopeless

impact v. to have a strong and often bad effect on

thwart v.. to prevent from doing something or to stop from happening

intend v. to plan or want to do

resort –v. to do something especially because no other choices appear to be available

eliminate –v. to remove, get rid of

primary –adj. most important, first

objective –n. something that a person is trying to do or reach; a goal or purpose

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