School Shootings

How much do you really know?

By Gil Contreras
Published on LatinoLA: October 14, 2006

School Shootings

Watching television news coverage of yet another school shooting in three weeks, I found myself thinking back to that day in the seventh grade at Lincoln High School, when a friend of mine showed me a gun he was carrying in his pocket.

It was a stainless steel small caliber semi-automatic handgun. I don't know why he had the gun, if the clip had bullets, or what he intended to do with it, but as he and I, and other male students, walked to school I remember thinking it was "cool" not scary that he had a gun.

As it turned out, my friend, whom I only remember as "James," was ratted out by one of the students he showed the gun to and was immediately "called to the office." Apparently, once we all got to school he left the gun in his locker and continued with his school day as usual until the Boy's Dean took him from class to his locker where the gun was and confiscated it. I don't remember ever seeing James again.

At age 50, a former law enforcement officer, and the father of a student in middle school, I wondered about my own daughter's school readiness for an emergency incident. So, I asked a teacher at my daughter's school about the emergency procedures. I was pleased to hear they have them, but displeased to find that because she works part-time at the school and directs other campus activities, she has missed all in-service trainings regarding emergency procedures.

Seeing the dismay on my face, however, she showed me the back of her school identification card (which is supposed to be worn around her neck for easy identification as a staff member - which no teacher does), which listed a series of "codes" designed to let other teachers know that an emergency exists at school, but "coded" so as not to "scare" any student who might overhear either a conversation about the incident or radio transmission.

21 Texas...would mean that someone (I don't know who) is "Trapped."

21 Florida...would mean there is a "Fire." Why you wouldn't want students to know there is a fire and to move quickly to the schoolyard is not yet clear to me.

21 Iowa...would mean that someone is "Injured."

21 Pennsylvania, Delaware...would mean that someone is "Possibly Dead." I'm not making this up!

21 Vermont...would mean that someone is "Possibly Violent." Shouldn't this one be "21 Pennsylvania, Vermont?"

21 Montana...would mean someone is "Missing."

Now, I don't know if these codes were developed by a geography teacher or not, but certainly in a real emergency most teachers would never remember what the right code is for which emergency, and what would most likely ensue is chaos and confusion.

Interestingly, most school shootings, like Columbine, and the recent shooting of ten female students at an Amish Schoolhouse in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, are more likely to occur in smaller cities or rural areas. I note this as interesting because in California, and certainly in Los Angeles County, most people would presume urban inner-city schools wrought with gang influence in and around most schools and their surrounding communities, would be a more likely location for school shootings. Not so.

According to Jared Lewis a school security expert (, "[while] violent crime is far less common in rural areas than in cities - all three school shootings in the past week occurred in rural places." Lewis and other experts in the field assert that for students who feel they don't "fit-in" at school in larger cities, there are other outlets and social groups to match most personalities outside of the school setting which can provide a "group" for almost any student to belong. Additionally, most big schools have more diverse groups, clubs and community organizations working directly with students on-campus.

Experts say that in smaller cities and rural areas where outlets and social groups for pre-adolescent students and teens are fewer, the "disconnected" feeling at school can lead to real isolation, which can then fuel feelings of not belonging or being accepted by peers. And when triggered by normal pre-teen and teen life, can leave a student feeling as though there are no other options available to gain acceptance or relief from being outcast/bullied/misunderstood/unaccepted at school and lead to violence against fellow students.

The United States Secret Service (USSS), whose primary mission is the protection of the President of the United States and other government dignitaries through the use of "profiling," says that school shootings are so infrequent (they seem more because of media coverage) that it is difficult to "profile" a teen school shooting suspect. In a study released by them in October 2000, they studied 41 school shooters in 37 incidents from 1974 through 2000, and found that attempting to "profile" a teen school shooter was ineffective at best, and discriminatory at worst.

Still, others like Lewis maintain that shooters can be profiled. For clarification purposes, remember there are two types of "school shooters," 1) the student shooter such as Columbine, and, 2) adult shooter such as the shooter at the Amish Schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. So, what follows below is a Profile of a Teen School Shooter developed by Jared Lewis:

AGE - 6 - 18-years-old. (Most are between 14 and 15-years-old.)

GENDER - Male.

RACE - Almost always White.

IQ - Above average.

SOCIAL - Isolated--a loner with few friends.

MOTIVE - To punish those who bullied, taunted, rejected or shamed.

PRECUSOR - Threat of violence-all said what they were going to do prior to act.

PERSONALITY - Angry, full of hate, depressed, nerd, weird sense of humor.

SPECIAL INTEREST - Guns, violent themes (movies, video games, websites, music)

HISTORY - Cruelty to animals. Slight interest in gangs, occult & white supremacy rngroups.

CRIMINAL HISTORY - Usually none.

FAMILY HISTORY - 55% parents intact, 45% divorced.

TRIGGER EVENT - Romantic rejection, fear of poor grades.

LOCATION - Rural or suburban schools.

AFFILIATION - Enrolled student, not a stranger at the school

PREDICATABILITY - High (leaves many clues).

WEAPONS - Semi-automatic handguns.

LOCATION - Where students gather.

PLANNING - Always planned.

VICTIMS - Victims always targeted (females common).

TIME - Over half happened in the middle of the day.

In the October 2000 report the USSS also noted that many of the myths about school shooters are simply not accurate. The report found that students do not "snap" and then go on a shooting rampage. It found most shooters planned their attacks in advance, told people about them and had what Gavin de Becker calls "pre-incident indicators," that should have alerted adults close to the shooter that something was wrong, and the student needed help. Unfortunately, in the shootings reviewed by the Secret Service, they found that most adults involved with the shooter either did not recognize the indicators, or recognized them, reported them (sometimes), only to subsequently have them dismissed because "nothing had happened" to warrant official intervention.

As a parent, the most striking part of the report (go to for pdf copy) is what appears to be the most effective and cost efficient way of preventing school shootings and other violence seems to be as simple as providing ALL students with an outlet to express themselves and to provide adults who can talk to, listen to, and guide students in matters other than test scores. Teenage angst about love, break-ups, parental divorce, and feelings of awkwardness can leave a child feeling alone and disconnected from their world, which can, and has, had deadly consequences for all.

Listed below are areas for parents, teachers and administrators to consider in preparing all adults (and older students as well) in the prevention and intervention of school violence:

I. Parents

1. Know your child, talk to your child and more importantly, listen to them.

2. Look for changes in behavior, moodiness, dress, music. Some kids go through a normal "rebellious" stage where, as parents, we see some of this behavior anyway. This is the problem with "profiling." Knowing your own kid and their "norm" is best.

3. Go through your child's writings, i.e., drawings, poems, journals. Writings of graphic and explicit death and violence should concern you. However, before you call the police or rush to a psychiatrist, talk to your child about the writings...try to find out what is going on inside their heads and heart.

4. If you "feel" something is wrong with your child, emotionally, mentally, seek help. It doe not have to be "professional," sometimes just talking to another parent or family member can bring clarity of thought and ideas to help your child.

II. Teachers

1. In addition to teaching your subject matter, you must be prepared to:

? Be a Psychiatrist - be able to recognize behavior changes, anti-social behavior beyond the norm for each of your students, and beyond normal ranges of behavior changes common in adolescent and pre-adolescent children.

? Be the School Police - be able to spot adults and kids who might not have business on your campus. Additionally, as you teach, have lunch, and walk the campus, be looking for any activity or students loitering, hiding, or gathering in unauthorized areas.

? Be the Coolest Teacher in the School - this may be difficult for some, but being a teacher viewed as "cool" may lead to someone giving that teacher a warning about an upcoming incident or rumors of an upcoming incident. In police work we call them CRI's, confidential reliable informants.

? Be a Hand-to-hand Combat Instructor - in some school shooting cases staff and students assisted in disarming or holding a shooting suspect until police arrived. You must be prepared to "fight for your life or the life of a student."

III. School Administrators

1. Ensure all staff is familiar with emergency procedures.

2. Conduct regular emergency drills without prior notification to staff. Training that becomes routine can create a false sense that training is a waste of time, ineffective and not taken seriously by staff. This can lead to chaos and confusion and inaction in a crisis.

3. Establish procedures for admitting and readily identifying visitors, volunteers and all staff members walking around campus.

4. Ensure all staff and office personnel have a method of communication that is operable in all areas of the campus.

5. Designate one staff or office person as the liaison with the local police and fire department. In a crisis situation, one person should know what and how to report an emergency to local officials.

6. Ensure all staff is prepared and willing to challenge any person on campus they do not know or cannot be readily identified.

7. Ensure staff and volunteers are working with as many children as possible in different capacities to facilitate the recognition of "pre-incident indicators."

8. Understand that in most violent incidents on-campus, it will be over before the police ever arrive. Train your staff to that standard.

About Gil Contreras:
Gil Contreras is a former police officer and award winning journalist in Los Angeles. email: 1035@mail.comrnrnweb

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