Washington – The majority of students who perpetrated fatal attacks on schools in the last decade were boys who had been bullied, had disciplinary problems and alarming behavior that was generally ignored, according to a study by the US Secret Service.
In at least four cases, the attackers wanted to emulate other young people who began shooting at schools, including those at Columbine High School in Colorado, Virginia Tech University and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
The National Threat Assessment Center study is the most complete report issued since the Columbine shooting in 1999. The report thoroughly analyzed 41 attacks on schools from 2008 to 2017 and researchers had unprecedented access to confidential information from agencies security, including police files and documents that are not available to the public.RELATED
The conclusions could help study centers and authorities better identify students who might be planning an attack and prevent them from carrying it out.
“These are not sudden, impulsive gestures of students who are bothered by something,” said Lina Alathari, director of the Center, in an interview with the Associated Press. "Most of these incidents were preventable."
The parents of three students killed in 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, appeared Thursday at a press conference to support the study.
Tony Montalto, whose daughter Gina Rose, died in the attack, said the investigation was very valuable and could have prevented the attack.
"My beautiful daughter could be alive today," he said. "Our entire community was marked forever."
Montalto urged schools to pay attention to the report.
"Please learn from our experience," he said. "It happened to us, but it could happen to their communities too."
40 information sessions have been scheduled for groups of up to 2,000 people. Alathari and his people trained about 7,500 people in 2018. The course is free.
The Secret Service is responsible for protecting the president, but has the Threat Assessment Center to analyze how to prevent other types of attacks.
Since the Columbine attack there have been numerous similar episodes. In some, such as the 2012 Sandy Hook, they were perpetrated by young people who were not students.
The report covers 41 attacks in which the aggressor [s] were or were students of those schools, which killed at least one person with a weapon.
In the episodes studied, 19 people died and 79 were injured.
The Secret Service issued a guide in July with recommendations on what to do, but the new report is a broader analysis of the attacks.
The shots rarely last more than a minute and the police almost always arrived when there were no more shots. The attacks generally occurred during the day and were concentrated in a specific place, such as a cafeteria, a bathroom or a classroom.
Most of the attackers were men, although there were seven women. 63% were white, 15% black, 5% Hispanic, 2% indigenous or Alaska Native and 10% were of two or more races.
Firearms were almost always used, but also daggers. An attacker used a bayonet like those of World War II. Investigators verified that most of the weapons came from the houses of the attackers.
Alathari said investigators were able to examine very detailed information about the attackers, including the dynamics in their homes, the disciplinary problems they had and their behaviors.
There is no clear semblance of an attacker, but some relevant details stand out: Most were absent from school before launching their attack, often because they were suspended, and had been ill-treated by their peers in person and on social networks. Some sought fame, others were suicidal. They had a fixation with violence and watched violent episodes on the networks, played violent games or read things about violence.
The key is to know what to look for, recognize patterns and intervene early to try to prevent someone from appealing to violence.
"There are a number of attitudes and factors," Alathari said.
Most of the attackers were young adults and in more than three quarters of the cases the attack came after an incident with someone at school.
In one case, a 14-year-old boy shot a fellow who was making fun of him and had made homophobic comments. Seven attackers documented their plans and five studied their targets.
Althari said the report indicates that schools may have to change the way they impart discipline and intervene.
The report does not analyze political issues as if weapons are too accessible or if teachers should be armed.