This data could help put an end to deadly mass shootings in America

JIlian Peterson and James Densley really nailed the numbers.

The scientists looked at data from 180 mass shootings across the United States, looking for patterns.

They found that in 80 percent of the cases, the shooter – almost always a young man – had been suffering from some form of personal crisis before the incident and had shown signs of a personal crisis, and that almost all were planning to lose their lives. Many had already considered suicide.

One of the myths they debunked was that the shooters would be considered mentally ill by most definitions: psychosis, described as when people lose touch with reality, was a factor in less than 30 percent of the shootings.

One of The Violence Project’s most striking findings – and perhaps a little obvious in hindsight – is that the shooters were not misfits or “monsters” before conducting their shootouts; Rather, they were part of the community they were destroying—sons, nephews, classmates, and friends.

“It is instinctive to dismiss mass shooters as monsters – their destruction is appalling and unimaginable,” write Peterson and Densley The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic.

“And yet we lose. The monsters don’t go away. In fact, there are more and more. And they kill more and more people every year.”

They add: “The monsters aren’t ‘they’, they’re ‘us’ – guys and lads we know. Our children. Our students. Our colleagues. Our community. They pass through the same secure doors as all of us, every day, past the same armed guards.”

Crucially, the two scientists, who work out of twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, didn’t simply create a database. They argue that by analyzing the commonalities between shooters, they can provide teachers, parents and school safety officers with “off-ramp” tools to spot signs of a crisis before they become fatal and intervene.

Some of their contributions to these techniques come from the US Secret Service, which spent years improving its overall threat assessment approach after the 1987 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan.

The National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) led by Dr. Founded in 1998, Lina Alathari is made up of social science researchers and regional managers “who support and empower our law enforcement partners, schools, government and other public and private sectors to combat the ever-evolving threat of targeted violence from the communities across the United States are affected”.

Researcher talks about identifying people who could commit mass shootings

Less than a year after the publication of their book, the founders of The Violence Project are in talks with several school districts in the Twin Cities to try some of their off ramp ideas.

The two researchers’ work comes at a critical time for the United States as it continues to struggle to address gun violence, either through gun regulations or through some type of intervention.

Up to 45,000 people died from gun violence, either by homicide or suicide, in 2020, the latest year for which data are available.

A mass shooting allegedly carried out by an 18-year-old with white supremacist ideology killed 10 black people in May in Buffalo, New York. Less than two weeks later, 19 elementary school students and two teachers were shot and killed by a local high school student in Uvlade, Texas.

In Texas, the 18-year-old gunman who was killed by police had previously threatened girls online and vowed to rape or kill them, but they were ignored or laughed at because “kids fool around like that.”

In Buffalo, gunman suspect Payton Gendron, 18, who survived, said he wanted to “commit murder-suicide” when asked about his plans after graduation.

The police were called and the student said he was joking. He had a psychiatric evaluation at a hospital but was discharged within days, and when he graduated two weeks later, he fell off his teachers’ radar.

He was charged with 10 counts of hate crimes resulting in death.

Perhaps most notably, Ethan Crumbley, the teenager accused of attacking his own high school in suburban Detroit in December 2021, allegedly texted his mother about seeing demons and spirits in the family home , filmed himself torturing animals and became obsessed with firearms and Nazi propaganda in the weeks leading up to the shooting that killed four people.

Mourners light candles at a makeshift memorial outside Tops Market in Buffalo, New York, where 10 black people were shot dead by a teenager

(Getty Images)

Densley, 40, originally from the UK and a professor of criminal justice at the Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, recounts The Independent The project’s work has been somewhat controversial, and both he and Petersen have received death threats. He believes most threats don’t really take the time to look at their work.

“In a way, we move a bit outside of the conventional academic space. That comes with risks,” he says.

“But I think we’ve made this project very conscious, which means this is an issue that needs public attention. And there has to be practical and policy implications.”

He adds, “So we can’t just bury that in a peer-reviewed magazine article that nobody’s going to read. We have to be willing to talk a little more openly about the results of the research and accept some of the risks involved.”

Peterson, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University in St. Paul, worked in New York City for several years researching the life stories of men facing the death penalty and ensuring they were appropriate as part of New York Capital Counsel was provided by the Defense Attorney’s Office.

Densley says he was also working as a teacher in New York while trying to help young people, who often came from difficult backgrounds and wanted to do more.

At the beginning of their book, the two describe the interrogation video of 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who shot and killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018.

His younger brother asks what their mother, who died of pneumonia three months ago, would think of it.

“People now think you’re a monster,” says the brother.

“A monster?” The shooter begins to tremble, they write.

Jillian Peterson spent several years in New York City researching the life stories of men facing the death penalty

(The Violence Project)

In an interview with PBS News, Peterson said examining the data revealed many striking patterns.

“We examined the life stories of 180 perpetrators who killed four or more people in public,” she said.

“And we’ve identified this common path to violence that we’ve seen over and over again. It often started with severe childhood violence, abuse, neglect. Various forms of trauma laid the groundwork, so to speak. Then, over time, you see a build up where they become isolated, depressed, and hopeless.”

She adds, “Often … they are actively suicidal or have previously attempted suicide. Then that self-loathing kind of turned outward, and you see the perpetrators figuring out who they blame for how awful they feel.”

Densley says her work was supported by contributions from the US Secret Service, one of the oldest federal investigative agencies in the United States.

Tasked primarily with protecting the President and Vice President, the agency has invested a great deal of effort and resources in the issue of threat assessment, particularly after the 1981 assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, which narrowly failed.

“Threat analysis, this idea of ​​whether we can spot the warning signs of violence and intervene early, has its roots in the 1980s and in federal work dealing with trying to prevent the assassination of politicians,” says Densley.

“The Secret Service is the one that started compiling some of the early threat assessment logs. And the Secret Service has continued that work, including in schools.”

If you google the world’s “Secret Service Threat Assessment Schools,” you’ll find a set of protocols and best practices, he says.

James Densley said the pair decided to talk about the findings rather than “burying” them in academic journals.

(The Violence Project)

The Secret Service did not immediately respond to inquiries The Independent.

However, its website states that the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) was established in 1998 as part of the Secret Service “to provide research and guidance in direct support of the Secret Service’s protective mission and others with responsibility for public safety.”

The agency regularly publishes reports assessing school security in the age of “targeted attacks”. Its current director is Dr. Lina Alathari.

“While communities can drive many school safety measures themselves, our experience tells us that school safety requires teamwork and the combined resources of federal, state and local governments, school boards, law enforcement and the public,” Secret Service Director James Murray wrote 2019

The team is also working with schools in the Minneapolis area and have spoken to school leaders and district administrators whose students grew up during a period of active shooter lockdown drills to try to drive prevention.

One such school working with The Violence Project to test a range of new protocols is the Roseville Area Schools, located less than 10 miles northeast of downtown Minneapolis. It has around 75,000 in its district, and Melissa Sonnek is the Deputy Superintendent.

She and her colleagues listened to Densley speak to them and agreed to incorporate some of the project ideas into their plans for creating a safer environment.

A basic idea is to provide all teachers with basic mental health awareness, another is an anonymous tip hotline for students or parents to direct their concerns and concerns to.

Sonnek says they are also testing a new app for student phones – the Stop It app.

“This will be an app that students will have access to in some of our secondary schools where there is a 24-hour crisis response,” she says, from Roseville. “And every time a student accesses the app, someone responds.”

Sonnek says she and her colleagues were impressed, but the hard data Densley and Peterson presented to them. They also liked the idea of ​​acting as the leader of a crisis to avoid scenes like Uvalde and Buffalo

“I would say it needs a more humane approach that humanizes people as much as our shared humanity and how we are connected,” she says. “I think anyone would much rather prevent a shooting or an act of violence than actually be prepared if it happens.”

She says there’s a part in the couple’s book, the final chapter, that talks about “hope.”

She adds, “And I think that’s the way to get there.”

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