Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment – Learning to Identify At-Risk Behaviors
A foiled school shooting plot lands a 16-year-old in the Baltimore County Police Department. On November 1, 2014, police officers responded to a string of car burglaries just north of Baltimore. The crimes were linked to a sophomore high school student. While questioning the suspect, officers began to uncover the teen’s calculated plot. According to a news release, “officers learned that he had plans to go to Baltimore County Public Schools’ George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology with two explosives and a gun, and that he wanted to kill people.”
The teen had in his possession explosive devices and a handgun.
Officers found materials that could have been used to make additional explosives. Quickly after, he was sent for emergency evaluation. He was charged with handgun possession, three counts of theft, possession of a destructive device and possession of a dangerous weapon on school property.
Less than two weeks prior, a University of Louisville student was taken into custody after making threats via the social media website 4chan. Freshman Charles Robb posted “I’m going to shoot up University of Louisville’s Miller hall tomorrow at 10AM. I’m tired of the staffs [sic] disrespect and their abuse.”
Authorities quickly identified Robb as the source. Provost Shirley Willihnganz sent an email to the U of L community describing the response to the threat. “This was a significant disruption for U of L and a reminder to all of us that words and postings do have consequences,” stated Willihnganz.
After school shootings, copycat activity is always of concern. Over the years, various attempts to recreate a Columbine-like tragedy have been thwarted. An incident earlier this year in Waseca, Minnesota proved no different. John David LaDue, 17, created a detailed plan to recreate the 1999 massacre in his own school. The teen had been storing homemade bombs and materials in a storage locker when residents in the neighboring apartment noticed his odd behavior. One resident dialed 911 after her instincts told her something was wrong.
Police officers arrived at LaDue’s storage locker to find the teen, an assortment of gunpowder, pyrotechnic chemicals, ball bearings and a pressure cooker. During a voluntary police interview after the search, LaDue explained his elaborate plan to kill his family before heading to the Waseca Junior/Senior High School. The plot included setting a fire to distract emergency personnel, setting off “numerous bombs” during the lunch hour and killing the school resource officer.
After obtaining a search warrant for the teen’s home, police found finished bombs, “numerous guns” and ammunition and LaDule’s plan detailed on paper.
Efforts to stop the school shooting may have proved futile had Easter landed on a different day. LaDule intended to carry out his plan on April 15, 2014, the 15 anniversary of Columbine. The day, however, landed on a holiday weekend while school was closed.
Since the Columbine High School shootings, and the many subsequent acts of violence that have occurred, most schools and business have implemented emergency response plans that address protocols to use for an active shooter or armed actor incident. They have set up crisis teams to respond when an event has occurred. Although a robust emergency response plan requires these tactics, they do not address the real problem— “how do we end the madness?”
The answer to keeping our children and employees safe lies in prevention. It is the job of every school administrator and board member to try and prevent acts of violence. Firestorm® works with schools and organizations to implement a program that will prevent such acts in the first instance — a program that will identify at risk students and employees, long before they progress down a path of violence or ever want to cause harm to begin with.
Such a program fosters an environment of enhanced safety, and give students and employees the ability to perform more optimally from an academic, social and emotional perspective.
A part of this includes monitoring of the web – including social mentions – for keywords related to planned violence. You can read our brief on monitoring here.
It is critical that schools and organizations do all they can to identify those students and employees who need help, and intervene with trained resources that will provide the counseling and case management the individual needs. This raises the likelihood that the gun never comes to school, the sexual assault never occurs or the bullying is stopped before it becomes a problem.
Firestorm has created the BeRThA Program – Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment – to assist schools and organizations in identifying, assessing, managing and responding to individuals or groups who may pose threats of violence. There are some guiding principles of the BeRThA program:
- Threat assessment must be part of an overall strategy to reduce school violence. Threat assessment by itself, absent an environment of respect, positive role models, communication between adults and students, conflict management and mediation, peer education, teachers and administrators paying attention to students’ social and emotional needs, as well as their academic needs, is unlikely to have a lasting effect on the problem of targeted school violence.
- No single person has all the skills required to conduct a behavioral threat assessment and no single person should have the sole responsibility to assess the potential risk of a student or employee. The BeRThA program starts with the Board of Education and engages the whole school community. It is designed using best practices and input from hands-on crisis management experience obtained by Firestorm principals and Expert Council Members, as well as the US Secret Service, FBI, Department of Education and other thought leaders on the topic of school and workplace violence.
- BeRThA provides school personnel with a wealth of information about behavioral threats as well as the availability of responding resources. For example, a student who turns out to be expressing a low level of threat may still be one with a high level of need for intervention, supervision and mental health services. In the light of prevention, identifying a similar student and empower support services that may help address/resolve his or her problems, should be seen as a positive outcome for all involved.
Please call Firestorm at 770-643-1114 or reach out via our CONTACT form and let us answer any questions you may have to assure your school or organization is doing everything possible to keep students, employees and your community safe.