Gaggle Speaks

Ideas, news, and advice for K-12 educators and administrators to help create safe learning environments.

Written by Paget Hetherington
on May 4, 2021

The U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) recently released a report analyzing 67 disrupted plots against K-12 schools from 2006–2018. The key findings show that individuals who are considering an act of violence often exhibit certain behaviors. When members of the community observe and report these behaviors, intervention is possible in order to help avoid a tragedy. 

By examining these 67 disrupted plots, which involved 100 plotters, and comparing the individuals to school attackers, the Secret Service was able to identify similarities in behavior between students who plotted attacks and those who perpetrated attacks on schools. Both sets of students share the following:

  • Histories of school discipline and contact with law enforcement
  • Bullying or mental health issues, including depression and suicidality
  • A plan for or completion of suicide as part of the attack   
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

The study showed that targeted school violence is preventable. In the key findings, the Secret Service revealed that students are in the best position to identify and report concerning behaviors, but require training and resources to know how to report their concerns. But what are the behaviors educators, family members, students, and other community members should watch for?

    • Specific threats or concerning communication: In 94% of the plots, at least one of the plotters communicated their plans to attack the school. In addition to communications about their plots, 74% also made other concerning written, visual, verbal, or online statements. 
    • Grievances with classmates: This was the main motivation for plots, accounting for at least part of the plotter’s motive in 31% of cases. In 21% of cases, the plotters were retaliating for being bullied by peers.
    • Mental health issues: 70% of plotters exhibited some type of mental health symptom in journal writings, statements, and behaviors observed by others. Some of these issues were a result of severe life stressors.
    • Interest in violent or hate-filled topics: 67% of the plotters expressed an interest in violence. Disturbingly, 43% of the plots involved at least one student who expressed interest in the Columbine tragedy. In addition, 31% of the plotters conducted research into prior school attacks, and 21% displayed an interest in Hitler, Nazism, and/or white supremacy. 

In every case examined for the report, tragedy was avoided because a member of the community came forward after observing concerning behavior. By working together, communities can help identify struggling students and intervene before it’s too late. Read the full Averting Targeted School Violence report to learn more about the research and findings from the Secret Service. 

To find out what Gaggle is seeing in terms of school violence, be sure to download our new Students Disrupted: One Year Into the Pandemic report. In this special report, we dive into what our data revealed during the first year of the pandemic, as well as what we’re seeing so far during the 2020–21 school year.

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