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Mass Violence by Michael Breslin

Current Environment -Domestic/Global

The new year provides hope for the future and renewed optimism. It represents an opportunity to hit the reset button. So too with parenting – it is never too late to learn and improve. The COVID-19 pandemic and all its unintended consequences have changed our lives dramatically these past few years – none more so than that of our children. Raising children today seems to be fraught with more challenges than ever before. The continuous onslaught of threats to our children is daunting.
Parents are confronted with keeping their children safe from predators who roam the internet, social media, and gaming platforms looking for their next victim. Parents must strike the correct balance when teaching their children to live in this world as happy and carefree as every child deserves while maintaining the right balance of fear and trepidation when things do not seem right.
There is no easy answer, no foolproof method. Children and their parents are under increased pressure given the dangers imposed by the internet of things (IoT), social media, remote learning, and isolation. If you are in doubt, just ask any parent of a middle schooler.
These risks are inherent in an open society like ours. With freedom come costs. Combined with the threats children face daily, they now face the danger of being the victim of gun violence. The incidences of violence and school shootings often are committed by young people, children, and adolescents alike. Parents have a pivotal role to play in the identification of at-risk behaviors and seeking the needed support for their children.

Threat Assessment Process
This type of violence represents a complex problem to solve; its root causes are often ambiguous and interwoven among a host of factors, societal, personal, emotional, and the like. The focus of this article is on ways parents can educate themselves and learn what to look for regarding warning signs that intervention may be needed.
Although no single profile of a school shooter or would-be attacker exists, there are lessons learned from previous attacks that provide possible indicators that all parents and caregivers should know. Although motives vary, research conducted by the United States Secret Service indicates the main motivating factors include grievances (real or perceived), a desire to kill, suicidal ideations, and desire for fame.
There are few absolutes in the threat assessment field, as much is situational and contingent on a myriad of factors. The term “threat assessment” is a proactive approach to violence prevention. It is an investigative model developed by the United States Secret Service to prevent assassinations. It has since been adapted to provide insight into all forms of targeted violence. A threat assessment generally involves three key components: Identification, Assessment, and Management (Mitigation).

Scope of Problem-Violence in Schools & Public Places
Definitions of mass shootings vary by country and often by government agency, ranging from the number of people killed and wounded to the time, place, and age of attackers and victims. Other topics of debate are the root causes for these acts of violence and what can be done to stop them. Mass shootings occur worldwide; however, given our nation’s high rate of gun violence amongst developed countries, those in the United States receive vast media attention, and rightly so.
In 2020, “The child and teen gun violence death rate in the U.S. was more than 3 times higher than that in Turkey, the country with the next highest rate; 11 times higher than in Israel; 19 times higher than in Switzerland and 85 times higher than in the United Kingdom.”
This overview is not intended as an academic deep dive into the problem of gun violence because every murder is consequential. Every child lost is a wound from which a parent never heals, and society suffers untold consequences in the long run.
Rather, the intent of the following is to provide an overview of the threat environment and a way forward for parents confronting the unenviable challenge of identifying and taking the appropriate steps if their child exhibits concerning behaviors.
Research compiled by the FBI indicates between the years 2000-2019, there were 333 active shooter incidents. In this twenty-year period, mass shootings occurred more frequently in businesses open to pedestrian traffic (96), open spaces (50) followed by schools (pre-K-12 /44), and other venues. This chart visualizes key information impacting educational environments.
Analysis conducted by the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, offers a detailed breakdown of K-12 school shooting data by incidents, victims, affiliation, time period, and outcome, among other variables. This research is alarming. In 2021, there were 240 non-active shooter incidents, 9 active shooter ones with 42 people killed and 151 wounded.

What’s a Parent to Do? Lessons Learned from the Secret Service
The instinct of a parent is to protect and safeguard their child from all harm – at least this is the ideal. Most parents would be reluctant to readily admit that his or her child could potentially commit acts of violence against others.
During my days investigating threats made to government and elected officials, I spent much time speaking to parents. It was rare when confronted with the proposition that their child made a threat serious enough to warrant a federal inquiry, any parent would automatically nod their head in agreement.
In one such instance a few decades ago, I recall sitting in the kitchen of a mother who refused to accept that her child did indeed make a threat towards a highly visible official in a very public manner, even when presented with indisputable evidence.
With permission, my coworker and I entered the bedroom of the minor along with both parents and surprisingly noticed various items in plain view, which would raise the concern of any parent that his/her child needs support services. Items such as alcohol, seemingly “morbid drawings” and other items were discovered. All indications that mental health indicators were potentially present and intervention was necessary.
Luckily, we had a proven method to help us conduct a comprehensive investigation. We utilized the protective intelligence and threat assessment methodology which seeks to identify, assess, and manage the individual to determine motivation, means, and opportunity of committing an act of violence on others or themselves.
We determined the minor posed no risk to others. Subsequently, the individual was referred to the appropriate medical, mental health, and school resource support systems whereby he and his parents embarked on a road towards wellness.
A key component in this example, as in all threat-based intelligence investigations, is communication. Speaking to people in ways they can both relate and understand is the key instrument in identifying and mitigating problems.
The point of this example is the parents ignored or failed to notice signs that were literally under their own roof, just a short walk down the hall into their child’s bedroom. How easy it is to miss what may be warning signs that something is amiss given the obligations we face under increased constraints on our time, resources, and quite often our very energy.
The adoption of best practices, the creation of threat management units, and violence prevention programs are crucial to identifying risk factors. This helps to create an environment that reduces acts of violence and can mitigate these threats posed to the public.
The role of law enforcement and public safety professionals is critical in this threat management process. Equally, if not more essential, is the role parents play in this process. Parents are the first line of defense and support for their children and offer the most accurate and pointed insight into their child’s mental state and propensity to cause harm – to themselves or others.
The role of parents and families in recognizing concerning behavior is critical to prevention. When identifying and assessing concerning student behavior, a collaborative process involving parents or guardians is ideal. Families should be educated on recognizing the warning signs and the support available to address their concerns, whether in the school or the greater community.” U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center

KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS
The importance and ability of parents, caretakers, and family members to notice when something does not seem right cannot be overemphasized. Targeted school violence can be prevented when people identify warning signs and take action to intervene.
“Knowing what’s normal behavior for your son or daughter can help you recognize even small changes in behavior and give you an early warning that something is troubling your child.
Sudden changes—from subtle to dramatic—should alert parents to potential problems. These could include withdrawal from friends, decline in grades, abruptly quitting sports or clubs the child had previously enjoyed, sleep disruptions, eating problems, evasiveness, lying, and chronic physical complaints (stomachache or headaches).
10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Violence in Your School Community (pta.org)

Potential Indicators
Research by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center indicates that acts of violence are almost always preceded by warning signs. Data suggests these acts of mass violence are rarely spontaneous, thereby providing opportunities for prevention.
Learning these indicators is in parents’ best interest and should be viewed through the prism of a comprehensive view of the minor – with a focus on the whole person. The significance of both context and situational analysis is paramount to this process.

What’s a Parent to Do? Lessons Learned from the Secret Service
The instinct of a parent is to protect and safeguard their child from all harm – at least this is the ideal. Most parents would be reluctant to readily admit that his or her child could potentially commit acts of violence against others.
During my days investigating threats made to government and elected officials, I spent much time speaking to parents. It was rare when confronted with the proposition that their child made a threat serious enough to warrant a federal inquiry, any parent would automatically nod their head in agreement.
In one such instance a few decades ago, I recall sitting in the kitchen of a mother who refused to accept that her child did indeed make a threat towards a highly visible official in a very public manner, even when presented with indisputable evidence.
With permission, my coworker and I entered the bedroom of the minor along with both parents and surprisingly noticed various items in plain view, which would raise the concern of any parent that his/her child needs support services. Items such as alcohol, seemingly “morbid drawings” and other items were discovered. All indications that mental health indicators were potentially present and intervention was necessary.
Luckily, we had a proven method to help us conduct a comprehensive investigation. We utilized the protective intelligence and threat assessment methodology which seeks to identify, assess, and manage the individual to determine motivation, means, and opportunity of committing an act of violence on others or themselves.
We determined the minor posed no risk to others. Subsequently, the individual was referred to the appropriate medical, mental health, and school resource support systems whereby he and his parents embarked on a road towards wellness.
A key component in this example, as in all threat-based intelligence investigations, is communication. Speaking to people in ways they can both relate and understand is the key instrument in identifying and mitigating problems.
The point of this example is the parents ignored or failed to notice signs that were literally under their own roof, just a short walk down the hall into their child’s bedroom. How easy it is to miss what may be warning signs that something is amiss given the obligations we face under increased constraints on our time, resources, and quite often our very energy.
The adoption of best practices, the creation of threat management units, and violence prevention programs are crucial to identifying risk factors. This helps to create an environment that reduces acts of violence and can mitigate these threats posed to the public.
The role of law enforcement and public safety professionals is critical in this threat management process. Equally, if not more essential, is the role parents play in this process. Parents are the first line of defense and support for their children and offer the most accurate and pointed insight into their child’s mental state and propensity to cause harm – to themselves or others.

“The role of parents and families in recognizing concerning behavior is critical to prevention. When identifying and assessing concerning student behavior, a collaborative process involving parents or guardians is ideal. Families should be educated on recognizing the warning signs and the support available to address their concerns, whether in the school or the greater community.” U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center

KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS
The importance and ability of parents, caretakers, and family members to notice when something does not seem right cannot be overemphasized. Targeted school violence can be prevented when people identify warning signs and take action to intervene.

“Knowing what’s normal behavior for your son or daughter can help you recognize even small changes in behavior and give you an early warning that something is troubling your child.”

Sudden changes—from subtle to dramatic—should alert parents to potential problems.
These could include withdrawal from friends, decline in grades, abruptly quitting sports or clubs the child had previously enjoyed, sleep disruptions, eating problems, evasiveness, lying, and chronic physical complaints (stomachache or headaches).

10 Things You Can Do to Prevent Violence in Your School Community (pta.org)

Potential Indicators
Research by the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center indicates that acts of violence are almost always preceded by warning signs. Data suggests these acts of mass violence are rarely spontaneous, thereby providing opportunities for prevention.
Learning these indicators is in parents’ best interest and should be viewed through the prism of a comprehensive view of the minor – with a focus on the whole person. The significance of both context and situational analysis is paramount to this process.

Missed Warning Signs – Should Parents Bear Some Blame?
The difficulties of parenting are now compounded with the possibility that one’s son or daughter may be harmed while simply attending class or running in the playground. The possibility is not so remote that one’s own child may know someone at his/her school who may be at risk for potentially doing the unspeakable – committing acts of mass violence.
Even worse is what no mother or father would ever dare to think of yet admit – that their child has the potential to commit such heinous acts. The recent case of suspected shooter Ethan Crumbley, serves as a sad and tragic case example. The fifteen-year-old is accused of killing four classmates, and his parents have been charged with manslaughter for failing to act on troubling signs exhibited by their son, among other reasons.
Like all these senseless shootings, this case is tragic for the victims, their families, and society. It also serves as a possible indication of a new standard by which a parent may be held legally liable and face prosecution for “missing the signs” and/or failing to take appropriate action prior to a violent act being committed.
Parents, caretakers, and professionals tasked with the education and safety of children can learn from this shooting and the ongoing investigation and litigation. There are signs and indicators one should know about and what to do when these warning signs are present.

Appropriate Actions Steps to Consider

1. Remain vigilant
2. Communication – Keep the channels of communication open with your child and his/her teachers
3. Listen to your children – be HONEST
4. Be aware of your child’s social media activity, know who their friends are
5. Inspect your child’s room occasionally
6. Know what your child is involved with, his/her interactions, etc.
7. Education – know the warning signs – seek training in the threat assessment process and know your child’s school safety plan.
8. Seek professional help when needed (Crisis Intervention, Drug Treatment, and Mental Health Treatment Services); do not wait until it is an emergency. Be proactive.
9. Remain engaged with School Officials, Teachers, Counselors, and School Resource Officers
10. Seek peer support programs
11. Know who to call if/when help is needed
12. Develop relationships with law enforcement and school safety officials
13. Notify law enforcement immediately if you suspect someone is planning an act of violence towards others
14. Reporting –If You See Something, Say Something
Individual and Shared Responsibilities
These are difficult times, and the problem of mass attacks and school violence tops the list in complexity when attempting to understand its root causes and implement prevention strategies. Law Enforcement and public safety officials, educators, public and private sector agencies, child safety advocates, and those who have lost a child to this senseless violence all play key roles in protecting our children.
Parents are the best advocates to contribute to this collective goal by educating themselves on the issues and taking a proactive and holistic approach to address issues impacting children. This approach will help result in timely, comprehensive, and factual based evaluations of the potential for risk of violence towards our children or others. ❦


About Michael Breslin

Michael has more than two decades of experience in federal law enforcement, protective intelligence, and transnational financial and cybercrime investigations. He serves on the Cyber Investigations Advisory Board of the U.S Secret Service and is the Strategic Client Relations Director for Federal Law Enforcement at LexisNexis Risk Solutions.

Prior to joining LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Michael served as Deputy Assistant Director for the Office of Investigations for the Secret Service where he oversaw the planning and coordination of investigative responsibilities. Michael is a Board Member for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and serves on the Preparedness Leadership Council.

 

 

 

 

 

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