*Disclaimer* This article is for general information only and is not considered professional advice.
It seems like every time you turn on the news, we are being bombarded with frightening images and terror attacks, active shootings, and other horrible crimes. It leaves us feeling helpless and wondering if things will ever change. The truth is you DO have the power to make the world around you a bit safer by helping to prevent attacks like these from occurring in the first place. Understanding mass shootings and the warning signs is the first step in preventing these atrocities.
You may have heard the phrase, “If you see something, say something.” Law enforcement asks everyday citizens to be their eyes and ears to help prevent an attack like a mass shooting. So who, or what, is truly concerning? The short answer is someone in crisis.
It’s important to look at the totality of circumstances and the person’s overall behavior. The US Secret Service has conducted extensive research into school shootings and other mass shooting incidents. They found most attackers elicited concern from others and most communicated their intent to attack.1 Many had threatened someone previously or made some concerning communication, such as paranoid statements, sharing videos of previous mass attacks, and vague statements about their imminent death.2
What are behaviors of concern?
The Department of Homeland Security pointed out that attackers typically do not just “snap,” but display indicators of potentially violent behavior over time.3 Some behaviors to look for include:
- Increased paranoia, blaming others for their problems, or having a grievance with a person or organization
- Increased use of alcohol and/or drugs
- Depression symptoms, included not caring for their appearance/ hygiene, increase in absenteeism, self-isolating, and self-harming
- Increased severe mood swings and outbursts of anger without provocation
- Suicidal talk or behaviors such as “putting things in order”
- Resistance or overreaction to changes in company/school policy and procedures or purposeful violations of policies
- Interest in weapons, violent crimes, and having a lack of empathy with individuals committing violence
- Online influence or radicalization into a new belief system
- Weapons purchases
- Threatening, harassing, or stalking others, including organizations
I have found that there is usually some stressor that pushes them to act out. These situations could be being fired from a job, the loss of a loved one, or a romantic break-up/rejection. A psychotic break from reality can also trigger an individual to act out.
We can now determine who is concerning, but who should you tell and what can be done? Well, each circumstance is different, but the bottom line is to tell someone, anyone, that you are concerned. The best suggestions are:
- The National Suicide and Crisis Hotline can be reached by dialing 988. They may connect you with someone in the local area. If there are no local resources available, then they will advise on how to help the person in need. If the person has made statements about harming themselves or others, a mental health hold can be ordered. A mental health hold is where the person will be evaluated by doctors in a hospital to determine if they need further care.
- The Local Police Department where the person lives. If the person has committed a crime, such as making threats or harassing you, the police can intervene. If the person hasn’t committed a crime but does display concerning behaviors, the police may simply keep the person’s name on file. Thus, providing a recorded history of these behaviors. They may also do a wellness check and investigate to determine if the person is a threat to themselves or others.
- If you are reporting an online threat, and do not know where the person is, you can call your local police station too.
- Consider also notifying the person’s current or former place of employment and school. The person’s job or school must know they are having issues so they may either help the person or be aware they may be the target of the person’s attack.
What info should I provide when I report?
Be ready to specifically explain the reasons/behaviors that made you concerned.
- Their name
- Their Address
- Their Date of Birth or age
- Their Social media screen names/ usernames
- Screenshots including the full URL. (This is vital since their account may be private and cannot be viewed by others)
Please trust your gut. If you are truly concerned for someone who has shown signs of distress, reporting them can save their life and the lives of countless others. Keep in mind, that mass shootings are a fairly new phenomenon in our country. As such, many cities are still navigating the best way forward through this. While many workplaces and schools have contingencies for attacks and people of concern, many may need assistance. If you would like to read more studies on individuals who have committed attacks on the public, please click here to visit the US Secret Service website.
Many attackers display concerning behavior and have communicated their intentions, whether in person or online. If you are concerned that someone you know is a risk to themselves or others, or if you see a concerning post online, tell Law Enforcement. Call the local police or by dialing 911 if there is an imminent danger. You can also call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988. Mass shootings are preventable, as long as we remain informed, vigilant, and proactive.
About the Author
Mischa Karter is a private security contractor with over 20 years of experience in protection, protective intelligence, threat assessments, counter terrorism-related examinations, criminal investigations into fraud, corruption, government abuse, and protective threat cases.