School Shooting Threats

The FBI has done extensive research and profiling of school shooters and they note that “all threats and all threateners are not equal” but all threats must be taken seriously and assessed. Yet, the FBI reports, most threateners are unlikely to carry out their threat. 

While I do not have personal knowledge of the youth who have been accused of the recent school threats locally, generally there are multiple facets which can contribute to such behavior. It typically is not just one single component and is more likely a combination of factors.  Some of these include: 

  • The decision-making part of the brain, responsible for a youth’s ability to plan and think about the consequences of actions, solve problems and control impulses, continues to develop into the mid-20’s. Thus, youth may make impulsive comments and not realize the seriousness of their statements. This is particularly the case when threats are stated over social media where there is the illusion of anonymity. 
  • The youth may be having difficulties coping with conflicts, disappointments, failures or other stressors.  Or, the youth may be expressing a desire or need for control, attention, respect.
  • The youth may be depressed and possibly suicidal.  The threat may be a call for help or an expression of anger, disappointment, humiliation, or frustration.  The onset of psychotic disorders typically occurs in the late teens and early 20s, leading to sometimes bizarre and unusual behavior. These disorders can go undiagnosed and untreated for several years.
  • Family issues may play a contributing role, particularly if there has been some trauma or loss suffered by the youth. This could include the loss of a parent, physical/sexual/emotion abuse, neglect, or parental substance abuse. Trauma victims oftentimes are triggered with the “fight or flight” response leading to disruptive and sometimes aggressive behavior as they are reacting to perceived threats.
  • School climate and culture can also an influencing factor. If a student sees an imbalance in the approval, attention, or prestige given to some students over others, this may lead to frustration and resentment. The youth may feel bullied at school and unprotected by the administration.
  • Social dynamics with peers, and the community as a whole, can influence a youth’s behavior, including their outlook on life, attitudes, and feelings about themselves. They may be alienated from others, feeling as though they don’t belong.

Identification of youth who may be struggling is key. Family, school, and community members should be on the look-out for youth who may be exhibiting some of these factors. Intervention through mental health treatment and adult support/mentoring can help prevent school threats.