On Thursday, June 16, 2022, I was privileged to address 75 police chiefs and associate members of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association (BCPCA) in Haworth, N.J.
My remarks were titled, “Echoes of Columbine: School Violence Awareness and Prevention, II of II.”
As liaison for the BCPCA on issues of leadership, violence prevention and public safety, I have shared monthly remarks to the association for the past 20 years.
During that day’s event, Part II of a 30-minute FBI video titled “Echoes of Columbine” was summarized with some of my own insights.
It should be noted that the article is written in concise style as for a speaker’s remarks.
The remarks began with a quick review of Part I presented on April 21, 2022 to the BCPCA:
COLUMBINE EFFECT, WARNING SIGNS, BROADCASTING, MANIFESTOS
The Columbine Effect: The psychological empowering of other shooters, inspired by Columbine — an active shooter incident unfolding real time on international TV. Columbine has inspired more than 100 copycat attacks.
Warning Signs (Leakage): Unintentional or intentional.
Broadcasting: Telling peers or family members through social media, drawings, comments, assignments, papers.
Manifestos (Theatrics): Writings or video crafted to portray themselves as godlike or a heroic avenger, thus the reason for the attack. These manifestos and theatrics are often laced with legacy tokens, which is the offender’s way of claiming credit.
Warning Signs: Time for prevention and intervention.
My remarks continued with new material, both from the video, as well as my own insights based on presentations nationwide and extensive published works since Columbine, which took place on Apr. 20, 1999:
ZERO TOLERANCE / THREAT ASSESSMENT
ZERO TOLERANCE: This is an often exaggerated response to harmless objects such as nail clippers, water pistol, finger pointing and water pistols, with suspension or termination without reason.
Threat Assessment (More Effective): Is the person a threat? Are they on the path to violence? Do they have access to weapons? Or are they talking about accomplices making threats?
The threat assessment by a team must be a collaborative approach by numerous disciplines, including security, mental health, administration and law enforcement.
Anyone on the radar with substantive concerns (or a proclivity to violence) demands immediate intervention by the threat assessment team and/or law enforcement.
Anonymous tips give the community, teachers, students, even parents ability to have threat assessment or law enforcement intervention. Responses can include counseling, alternative learning or law enforcement intervention.
During my remarks, I also shared a synopsis of the “Preventive System of Education.” In my opinion, this pedagogy is critical for American schools.
PREVENTIVE VS REPRESSIVE SYSTEM OF EDUCATION
There is the repressive system that makes rules known, watches for transgressions, and is quick to discipline a student by inflicting condescending correction and punishment. The errant zero-tolerance policy in so many schools is an example of a repressive system — rigid, bureaucratic, and impersonal.
The better pedagogy is the preventive system of education. In this system, educators are vigilant in a caring manner and offer patient guidance from the heart consistent with kindness, character and reasonableness.
The preventive system of education builds trust, respect and connections with students and the community. This pedagogy is the opposite of a zero-tolerance approach. The preventative system responds to concerns with measured interventions that promote reasonableness, dignity and respect.
The repressive system is dictatorial and may temporarily stop a disorder or a warning sign, but will not inspire students or properly remedy the issue.
The preventive system speaks the language of the heart and is transformational. It provides speedy intervention to warning signs due to the educator’s dedication, presence and corrective follow through.
Communities must prepare and be collaborative — build bridges and continually fortify them.
COMMUNITY BRIDGES / GUN VIOLENCE STATS
Bridges Within The Community: This must include peers, teachers, students, law enforcement, mental health, elected officials, janitorial and cafeteria staff, school bus drivers, crossing guards, security and school resource officers. All of these individuals must be included in professional development programs for American schools.
Gun Violence Archive Stats (Jan. 1-June 14, 2022)
I also shared these alarming statistics from the Gun Violence Archive website[i]:
- 267 mass shooting incidents
- 14 mass murder incidents
- 163 children killed (younger than 11)
- 338 children wounded
- 583 teens killed (ages 12-17)
- 1,544 teens wounded
- Suicides — 10,890
PART I OF II, ECHOES OF COLUMBINE: SCHOOL VIOLENCE AWARENESS AND PREVENTION, DELIVERED TO THE BCPCA ON APRIL 21, 2022 IS AS FOLLOWS:
On Thursday, April 21, 2022, I was privileged to address 90 police chiefs and associate members of the Bergen County Police Chiefs Association (BCPCA).
My remarks were titled “Echoes of Columbine: School Violence Awareness and Prevention,” and were delivered in Alpine, N.J.
During that day’s event, I summarized a 30-minute FBI video titled “Echoes of Columbine,” and added some of my own insights.
The remarks shared today are as follows:
Since this week was the anniversary date of Columbine (Apr. 20, 1999, 23 years earlier) what have we learned?
- Unprecedented act of American violence
- 13 dead and 21 others wounded and two suicides by the shooters
Columbine resonates with a new breed of shooters. It inspired a cult-like following and a twisted blueprint to follow or surpass.
THE COLUMBINE EFFECT
The Columbine Effect is a psychological empowering of other shooters. Columbine is their inspiration. It was one of the first active shooter incidents that unfolded in real time on international TV.
The two killers screamed their rage and received worldwide attention. Columbine is the template that has inspired more than 100 other copycat attacks resulting in:
- Hundreds of lives lost
- Countless injuries
The tragic ramifications of Columbine continue. For example, Virginia Tech’s (32 dead, 23 wounded) killer (April 16, 2007) wrote an essay expressing admiration for the Columbine shootings.
PATTERNS AND BEHAVIORS OF A SCHOOL SHOOTER
Apparently, there is no typical profile but there are common patterns and behaviors of a school shooter.
The FBI profiling unit’s conclusion is that profiling does not work for school shooters, but studies throughout the last 20 years show many school shooters share common characteristics, as follows:
- Perceived injustices inflicted upon the attacker: They become an injustice collector with bruises that never heal.
- Revenge: Born from humiliation and the loss of control.
- Need for Attention: Their 15 minutes of fame, no matter what the price of carnage is to pay for it.
- Troubled, Alienated, Hopeless, Withdrawn: Desperate to express their dysfunction and brokenness.
- Notoriety By The Media Is Appealing: The twisted notion of being recognized.
MENTAL HEALTH CONCERNS
Twenty-five percent of attackers had mental health diagnosis prior to the attack.
There is evidence of mental health difficulties in 61 percent of the attackers. These mental health difficulties are not predictive but may factor in especially with issues of anxiety, depression, hopelessness, domestic violence, instability and family crisis — indicators that may amplify the need to act out the injustices.
Ninety percent have of some evidence of suicidal ideation.
PATHOLOGICAL FASCINATION: A CATALYST
Another catalyst, inspiration from previous attacks, is drawn from not just an interest in the attacks but a pathological fascination supported by research, articles and video clips.
Seventy-seven percent of active shooters, including school shooters, spend days, weeks and months to prepare. Individuals do not just snap. They methodically prepare, often with pre-attack indicators.
The Oregon Community College shooting (Oct. 1, 2015) left nine dead and eight wounded, then the shooter’s suicide. The shooter was hospitalized multiple times for wanting to harm others. Like the Virginia Tech shooter, he prepared a manifesto, instructing to deliver his to law enforcement.
His warning signs — Unbridled anger; false sense of entitlement; hopelessness; loner; no job; the world was against him, and a fascination with Columbine.
PRE-ATTACK BEHAVIOR INDICATORS
- Inordinate impulsiveness
- Dramatic changes (red flags, often noticeable by others): Obsession with weapons and noticeable downward spiral on social media
Shooters become desensitized to violence and dehumanize others. They are merely statistics.
LEAKAGE, BROADCASTING, MANIFESTO’S
- One Warning Sign (LEAKAGE): Intentional or unintentional signals that they are on the path to violence.
- BROADCASTING: Social media, comments, papers, drawings.
- A third of cases include MANIFESTOS with detailed motives.
After Columbine, I was privileged to travel the nation speaking with Jefferson County Sheriff’s Dept. Spokesperson, a former tough motorcycle cop. When he was unable to watch the shared video coverage of Columbine with the audience, he would leave the assembly. He knew some of the students and families and was devastated to be reminded of the violence.
Since 1999, I have been privileged to travel America addressing issues of school violence awareness and prevention. These concerns have also been covered in scores of published works, as well as my books “Listen To Their Cries” and “Reawakening America.”
Today, I would like to thank the BCPCA for allowing my insights to be shared, so we never forget, and that we work together to prevent additional tragedies.
VIDEO REFERENCE: Echoes of Columbine Link — FBI Documentary featuring the DeAngelis Center (Survivor Trigger Warning): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KyxjvqjHxec
RELATED READING: Crisis of Leadership: A Response to the Virginia Tech Panel Report: http://www.vincentbove.com/VBove–VTResponse–WebVersion.pdf
Five Preliminary Tips for Improving American School Security (Published as cover story for The Chief of Police, Spring 2018 Edition: http://vincentbove.blogspot.com/2018/02/5-preliminary-tips-for-improving.html?m=0
Violence Prevention: Securing Our Public Spaces and Schools: http://vincentbove.blogspot.com/2019/10/violence-prevention-securing-our-public.html
America’s Schools: Security, Character, Academics: http://vincentbove.blogspot.com/2016/08/americas-schools-security-character.html