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The Largest Study on School Shooters Since Columbine Found They Have a Few Key Things in Common

The first comprehensive assessment of school shooters since Columbine covered 41 shootings between 2008 and 2017.

by Gaby Del Valle
Nov 8 2019, 5:12pm

The U.S. Secret Service dug into almost 50 school shootings from the past 10 years and identified some major red flags that could have prevented the tragedies — and could stop future ones.

The study by the agency’s threat assessment unit, released Thursday, found there’s no single profile of a school shooter — they vary in age, gender, race, grade level, and social characteristics — but generally speaking, students who commit school shootings expressed an interest in violence, were bullied by their peers, and regularly got in trouble at school.

Researchers relied on law enforcement data like police reports and investigative files for the study, the biggest of its kind since Columbine.

“These are not sudden, impulse acts where a student suddenly gets disgruntled,” Lisa Alathari, the head of the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, told the Associated Press. “The majority of these incidents are preventable.”

The study is the first comprehensive assessment of school shooters since Columbine, and it covered 41 shootings between 2008 and 2017. While the researchers were careful to note that there isn’t a specific “profile” of a potential school shooter, they did find a list of warning signs to look for:

  • Idolizing or looking to emulate other school shootings like Columbine and Sandy Hook

  • Having a history of bad behavior and disciplinary actions in school, like being suspended or expelled

  • Being bullied by their classmates, especially if the bullying was persistent

Many of the shooters also had “negative home-life factors,” like drug use, criminal charges, or domestic violence in the home, and most experienced some kind of psychological, behavioral, or developmental systems, according to the report — but the researchers say that these factors alone shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign that a student is thinking of committing a shooting.

The information from the study will be used in training sessions to help educators and other community members understand warning signs, according to the AP. There are more than 40 training sessions scheduled already, and the Secret Service trained about 7,500 people in 2018.

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