Manual could help schools prevent violent threats

Thursday, May 16, 2002

WASHINGTON -- The Secret Service is telling school safety officials they've got to be more attentive, listen to kids and watch out for warning signs to curb school violence.

To many who work in the schools, that's what they've been doing for years.

The recommendations will be included in a Secret Service manual to be distributed this spring. But Curt Lavarello, who heads the National Association of School Resource Officers, said schools have been following such suggestions since a wave of shootings began in 1999.

"They're not telling us anything new," said Lavarello, who has seen a draft of the manual. "If anything, they're reaffirming the things we've said for many years now. ... We keep our ears to the ground, so to speak."

The Secret Service and the Education Department plan to hold training sessions this summer in six cities.

As part of its mission to protect public officials, the Secret Service operates the National Threat Assessment Center to study and help prevent violence in public places. The center began looking into the patterns of school shootings in 1999, after two students killed themselves and 13 others in a rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Investigations of school shootings since 1974 found that students who came to school with a plan to kill did not just "snap." They warned classmates, aired their grievances and left other clues.

A preliminary report issued in October 2000 found that in most school attacks, students knew something was about to happen. In one case, rumors of a planned shooting drew two dozen onlookers to a school hallway before the attacker opened fire; one student had brought a video camera, but forgot to record the event.

No student profiling

The Secret Service has warned strongly against profiling students, saying there is no common profile of a school shooter. Some were popular, others were not. Some made good grades; others were failing. Some were in foster care; some came from intact families that were pillars of the community.

Rather than building a profile of an attacker with a set of personality traits, schools should focus on behavior and motives and encourage students to speak out about students who are threatening violence, researchers have said.

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