In mid-April, an 18-year-old Maryland student was arrested and charged with threatening mass violence at a school after authorities were informed of a detailed document outlining his plans for a school shooting. This discovery, coupled with evidence from internet searches, drawings related to threats of violence, and a tip from another student, ultimately led to his arrest.

While recently leading training on Behavior Threat Assessment Teams for school administrators in VA, it was encouraging to see the teams follow best practices as they grappled with integrating information and assessing risk. The whole point of Behavior Threat Assessment is to interrupt the pathway to intended violence, and the case described above represents a powerful example of the effectiveness of a coordinated response. Let’s break down the steps that ultimately thwarted the occurrence of violence.

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Strengths of the Response:

  1. Collaborative Efforts: This case highlighted the effectiveness of collaboration between multiple stakeholders, including law enforcement, school officials, and concerned individuals in reporting and addressing potential threats promptly. 
  2. Swift Response: The swift actions taken by authorities in investigating the threats, collecting information, assessing risk, and apprehending the suspect helped prevent violence. This demonstrates the importance of the time-sensitive nature of interrupting the Pathway to Violence and of proactive measures to ensure school safety. 
  3. Support Resources:  In the past, the student received mental health support and interventions, thereby highlighting the importance of collaboration with mental health professionals and the school to monitor ongoing concerns. The availability of mental health professionals and a proactive increase in security for students and school staff are part of the support resources provided to the school community. Such resources can also be mobilized in times of crisis to address concerns about the student. 

Risk Factors and Warning Signs:

  1. Behavioral Red Flags: The case revealed several behavioral red flags, such as expressing violent thoughts, making threats, purchasing a BB gun, and exhibiting homicidal or suicidal ideations. Behavioral red flags and warning signs of violence indicate cause for concern and recognizing and addressing issues prevents escalation.
  2. History of Hospitalization: The student had a history of psychiatric hospitalization related to violent ideations, indicating a need for ongoing mental health support and monitoring. While recognizing that violence does not equal mental illness and mental illness does not equal violence, we must pay attention to mental health issues in students to provide care, support, and interventions.
  3. Online Activities: Evidence from internet searches, documents, and social media exchanges played a crucial role in identifying potential threats, emphasizing the need for monitoring online activities, and addressing content. While some information about a school is publicly available, like emergency response protocols, ensuring that sensitive details are protected online is crucial.

Curious Questions About the Situation:

  1. Replicate Response: How can we debrief this successful intervention to determine the systems, structures, and roles in place that led to the success, with the goal of replicating across states and districts?
  2. Role of Technology: How can technology be leveraged to identify and address threats more effectively, while also respecting individuals' privacy rights?
  3. Long-Term Solutions: What long-term solutions can be put in place to address the underlying factors contributing to violent ideations and behaviors among youth? 

This recent incident in Maryland serves as a stark reminder of the critical importance of collaborative efforts and proactive measures in preventing violence within schools. It also highlights the need to monitor behavioral red flags, warning signs, and online activities, coupled with swift and decisive actions when threats are identified. As we reflect on this case and its successful intervention, it's evident that Behavior Threat Assessments are a vital tool in our resources for school safety.

To further equip yourself with the skills and resources needed for effective Behavior Threat Assessments, consider exploring our BTAT toolkit on Joffe Academy. This comprehensive toolkit offers an 8-step process, templates, resources, essential documents, and six comprehensive courses to enhance your expertise. Elevate your skills and contribute to creating safer school environments with our Behavior Threat Assessment Toolkit.

Disclaimer: 

We are not affiliated with or involved in the emergency response to this incident. The opinions expressed here are based solely on publicly available news reports, some of which are cited while others are more generally referenced. As this situation unfolds, the analysis and perspectives offered may become outdated, incomplete, or inaccurate. This piece was written to highlight strengths and opportunities, however, our perspectives could change significantly as new details emerge.

 

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