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COURTESY OF SANDY HOOK PROMISE

WASHINGTON–In nearly every case over 10 years, attackers who targeted schools had engaged in threatening or other suspicious behavior that caused people to raise concernsbeforehand, according to a Secret Service examination of more than three dozen attacks.

The review, released Thursday, largely tracks an analysis of mass casualty attacks in 2018, which was published earlier this year. And it affirms a chilling conclusion: Much of the violence could have been averted.

In 80% of the cases, according to the report, the attackers’ behavior was so alarming that it “elicited concern from bystanders regarding the safety of the attacker or those around them.”

“In many of these cases, someone observed a threatening communication or behavior but did not act,” the Secret Service concluded. “These findings continue to highlight the importance of encouraging students, school personnel and family members to report troubling or concerning behaviors in order to ensure that those in positions of authority can intervene.”

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Authorities analyzed incidents involving current and former student assailants in which a knife or firearm was used between 2008 and 2017. Those attacks left 19 dead and 79 wounded.

The Secret Service concluded security measures alone were not enough to stop the violence. The most common defenses were school lockdown plans and electronic alert systems that use text messages or phone calls to notify students, teachers and other staffers about potential emergencies.  

At least 80% of the schools targeted had some type of security measure, from surveillance cameras to metal detectors. Half of the schools reported having one or more security officers on duty at the time of the attacks.

At least nine of the schools had threat assessment programs, in which staffers were assigned to identify potentially harmful conduct. But the Secret Service found that training and participation in those programs varied dramatically.  

Those programs, the Secret Service wrote, “should complement the physical security measures that a school determines is appropriate for its community.”

Attackers had similar psychological traits

Attackers did not fit a rigid profile, with the exception of gender: 83% were male. Their ages ranged from 12 to 18. Whites accounted for 63% of suspects, while 37% were of other or mixed races.

“There is no profile of a student attacker, nor is there a profile for the type of school that has been targeted,” the Secret Service concluded. 

However, researchers found that the attackers were much more alike in their psychological histories and motives. 

“In most cases, attackers displayed a behavior that was so concerning that it should have been met with an immediate response, including a threat assessment,” they found.

The conduct included threats to cause harm, other violent acts, suicidal statements and bringing weapons to school.

In two-thirds of the cases, authorities found that classmates or adults observed the behavior but didn’t report it.

“These behaviors are seen as being part of a constellation of lower-level behaviors, and may not warrant an immediate safety response,” the Secret Service stated. “Nonetheless, they should elicit some level of concern.”

The 2018 attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,was not included in the report because it occurred outside the period studied. But it is a striking example in which people called attention to the troubled gunman before he struck.

Social workers, mental health counselors, school administrators and law enforcement all had been warned about Nikolas Cruz’s deteriorating mental state and risk of violence before he opened fire at the school, killing 17 and injuring 17 others.

About a month before the attack, the FBI received a tip about Cruz and his “desire to kill people,” but the information was never forwarded for investigation. 

Since Parkland, Secret Service threat analysts have provided training at FBI call centers to assist operators in assessing tips.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/11/07/school-shooting-suspects-made-prior-threats-violence-could-have-been-avoided/4168502002/

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