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Students who plan school attacks often bullied, Secret Service report says

By
Don Johnson
Flowers and Seventeen crosses honor the victims of the shooting attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 18, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. File Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI
Flowers and Seventeen crosses honor the victims of the shooting attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 18, 2018, in Parkland, Fla. File Photo by Gary Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

March 30 (UPI) -- Students who plan school attacks share similarities with students who actually carry out violent acts, experience bullying or have histories of school discipline, a report from the U.S. Secret Service said Tuesday.

The study, titled "Averting Targeted School Violence: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Plots Against Schools," also found that many of those students used drugs or alcohol, had been in contact with law enforcement, often suffered from depression with stress at home and exhibited behavior that worried others.

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The agency's National Threat Assessment Center analyzed 100 students responsible for 67 disrupted school plots nationwide that were reported between 2006 and 2018.

The study said the key to preventing school attacks is early intervention by someone close to a student possibly planning violence.

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"School violence is preventable when communities identify warning signs and intervene," the report states.

The analysis identified other behaviors, including an interest in violent or hate-filled topics and a fixation on mass shootings. It noted that in 75% of the attacks, the students had access to weapons, primarily from their homes. Half of the students plotting school attacks had already obtained weapons.

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Research has found that these students display a variety of observable concerning behaviors as they escalate toward violence. Tuesday's report said schools and communities should develop threat assessment programs to identify, assess, and intervene with students who may pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.

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The report said analysis of the averted plots demonstrated that "there are almost always intervention points available before a student's behavior escalates to violence." It also found that In every case, members of the community came forward when they observed alarming behaviors.

Students were most often motivated to plan a school attack because of a grievance with classmates, the Secret Service said.

Like students who perpetrate school attacks, plotters observed in the study were most frequently motivated by interpersonal conflicts with classmates, highlighting a need for student interventions and de-escalation programs.

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"Students are best positioned to identify and report concerning behaviors displayed by their classmates," it said. "In this study, communications made about the attack plot were most often observed by the plotter's friends, classmates, and peers.

"Schools and communities must take tangible steps to facilitate student reporting when classmates observe threatening or concerning behaviors. Unfortunately, many cases also involved students observing concerning behaviors and communications without reporting them, highlighting the ongoing need for further resources and training for students."

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The Secret Service has studied school plots in the United States since the deadly shooting attack at Columbine High School in Aurora, Colo., in 1999.

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