On Monday, local educators from schools across the county were given the opportunity to learn about school shootings and how to prevent them by the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy. Meeting in the Entergy Room on the ASU-Heber Springs Campus, they were provided with various tips and strategies on identifying common characteristics and patterns of potential school shooters.
Officer Bernie J. Mosely of the Training Academy told educators one of the main obstacles to preventing a school shooting was the belief that “it could never happen here”. Most school shootings have occurred in small to medium sized towns with a strong sense of community and no real history of excessive violent crime. This sense of community and low crime rate can often lead to a feeling of immunity and thus create a perfect target for a potential shooter.
Mosely told educators that staying alert to potentially odd behavior and statements by a student is a large part of prevention. If a student is doing something the educator notices as particularly odd or out of character, then they should ask questions. “What are you doing? That one question could be the deterrent in a mass shooting,” said Mosely. Oftentimes, potential school shooters will begin asking questions about cameras or security and also about specific areas of the school. This can be done through questions to school staff or by going to city offices to view floor plans of the building. Some will test they security system by entering restricted areas or parking in parking lots for an extended period to see if they are noticed. Many times, the potential shooters will try to gain information on school lunch times, assemblies, etc. All of these tests are an effort by the potential shooter to determine when and where he can inflict the most casualties in the least amount of time. Staying alert to these attention-gathering techniques can be a great help in prevention.
Examples were given of common profiles of potential shooters. Many prior shooters, such as in Columbine and Newtown, were subjected to excessive bullying by other students. Excessive bullying by students over years has been major factor in creating violent tendencies in children. Sometimes a potential shooter may lash out due to losing a boyfriend/girlfriend to someone else. Feelings of depression, low self-esteem, and the overwhelming need to feel control over another human’s life are all factors that have commonly been found in school shooters. Some will give verbal clues before they intend to carry out the act. Warning friends not to be at school on a certain day is a big red flag. In an effort to feel a sense of self-importance and self-worth, some shooters fantasize about the media attention they will get from carrying out the act.
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Excessive exposure to violence via video games, movies, TV, etc. have served to help desensitize children to violent acts. In the case of “first person shooter” style video games, children get the experience of committing these acts themselves. According to Mosely, educators need to become more alert to red flag behaviors. Many kids will say something threatening in a fit of anger that has no real intent behind it. The threat is based in an anger that is passing and not based in reality. There are a few people, however, whose intent is sustained and real and those are the ones educators must be attentive to. “Times have changed,” said Mosely and educators have to understand how keep their students safe in this new atmosphere.