The National School Safety Center, a nonprofit, has compiled a list of the following pattern of behaviors from published reports of students and former students who have caused violent school deaths, which include:
- Violent temper
- Has brought a weapon to school
- Serious disciplinary problems
- Fringe of his peer group
- Bullies peers or is an abusive partner
- Preoccupied with weapons
- Has been expelled from school
- Cruelty to animals
- Lack of family supervision
- Prefers violent themes in media
- Depressed or suicidal
From what we know about the alleged perpetrator in Florida, so far, he satisfies almost every one of these. And of course these indicators often show up on social media these days. As they did here.
Schools' Ability to Respond
What we also know so far in Florida is that the school seemed to take this student's behaviors very seriously. He was expelled for disciplinary reasons.
Not every young person who displays these behaviors is an imminent threat to the public. There is no 1-to-1 correlation between any mental health issue and criminal behavior. In fact, people struggling with mental health issues are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.
However, what each of these red flags has in common are clear indicators of someone who needs mental health intervention and support. But there is a dearth of resources for that.
One in five K-12 students in the United States has a mental health problem, as we've reported. But four out of five of those problems go untreated.
In part that may be because, on average nationwide, each school counselor is responsible for nearly 500 students. And there is just one school psychologist for every 1,400 students.
They don't always make the headlines, but in at least 21 cases since 2001, family members, classmates or school authorities have reported young people who seem to be planning school attacks. The details of these cases are eerily similar: a stockpile of weapons, maps, a threat written in a school assignment or posted on social media. The reports have led to charges as serious as attempted murder.
Just this week, in Everett, Washington, a grandmother reported her 18-year-old grandson to police. She showed the officers a journal that allegedly included detailed plans of different weapons.
And exactly 17 years before Parkland, on Valentine's Day 2001, an 18-year-old was arrested at school in Elmira, New York. According to The New York Times:
[A] senior at Southside High School passed a disturbing note to another student. That student gave the note to a teacher, who alerted school administrators. A police officer was dispatched ...
The officer found him in the school cafeteria, armed with a .22-caliber Ruger semiautomatic, the police said. Beside him was a duffel bag crammed with 14 pipe bombs, 3 carbon dioxide cartridge bombs filled with gunpowder, one propane bomb and a sawed-off shotgun with several rounds of pellets.
Prevention can be looked at through a broader lens, too. There's a growing awareness that schools do have a responsibility over their social and emotional climate, and that successful interventions can save lives in multiple ways.
The new federal education law requires states to report data related to school climate and safety. Things like: how safe students feel at school, the prevalence of fights, and even suicidal thoughts.
And researchers say that, when this data is reported, it can help target whole-school interventions.