US Secret Service Report on School Shootings

Columbine High School. Sandy Hook Elementary. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The names are etched in our memories for reasons that no school wants to be remembered. Even as this post was being written, news broke of another school shooting in Santa Clarita, California. A new report by the US Secret Service has studied these and other school shootings, providing an unprecedented base of facts about school shootings and guidelines for preventing them.

The new report strengthens the conclusions of a 2002 Secret Service report—that there is no consistent “profile” of school shooters and that threat assessment and intervention are key to preventing shootings. The one consistent thread through all of the school shootings studied in the report is that every single shooter experienced extreme stress in their relationships with classmates within six months of their attack, and half had stressors in the two days before their attack.

Here are some key conclusions of the report:

  • There is no profile of school shooters or the type of school where the shooting occurred.
  • There are usually multiple motives for a shooting, the most common being grievances with classmates and school staff and issues with romantic partners.
  • Most attackers used firearms, and those firearms were most often acquired in their own home.
  • Nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors (e.g., divorced or separated parents, drug use or criminal charges among family members, or domestic abuse). The report specifically notes that these are not predictors of school violence.
  • Most attackers were victims of bullying, and that bullying was often observed by others.
  • All attackers exhibited concerning behaviors, and most communicated their intent to attack. The report notes that in many cases, someone observed a threatening communication or behavior but did not act, either out of fear, not believing the attacker, misjudging the immediacy or location, or believing they had dissuaded the attacker.

What Parents and PTAs Can Do

The report notes that preventing school violence is the responsibility of everyone—federal, state, and local governments; school boards, administrators, and teachers; law enforcement; and families and the public. Here are some things that families and PTAs can do help prevent school violence.

  • Host a PTA Connect for Respect program to help your school develop effective ways to prevent bullying and to create a positive school environment.
  • If you have firearms in your home, ensure that they are kept secure in a manner so that your child cannot access them. This is also a critical factor in preventing youth suicides.
  • Talk with your child about the importance of sharing their concerns with a teacher, parents, or school counselor about another student who may be experiencing difficulties or being bullied, who has shown an interest in violent topics, or who has mentioned suicide or violence.