School Climate & Safety

A Teen Planned a School Shooting. Thanks to a Tip, Police Intervened Before Students Were Hurt.

By Evie Blad — December 13, 2018 3 min read
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When a teen arrived an an Indiana middle school with plans to carry out a shooting Thursday, he found that its classrooms had already been locked down and multiple law enforcement agencies were quickly arriving.

That’s because Richmond, Ind., police acted quickly on a tip they’d received that morning that the teen planned to act. They warned the school and cooperating law enforcement. They prevented what could have been a much bigger tragedy by keeping students out of hallways and safely contained in classrooms while they waited to see if the tip was valid, officials said.

No one was injured but the gunman, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after he shot out the glass in the locked entry of Dennis Intermediate School, in Richmond, and exchanged gunfire with pursuing police, the Indiana State Police said in a statement about the incident.

“It is important to emphasize that due to the result of advance notification of the potential for a violent act at the school, the school had initiated their lockdown procedure which clearly prevented injury to students and faculty even though the suspect was able to enter the school,” the agency said.

The foiled shooting plot is informative for other schools and policy makers who are in ongoing discussions about how to ensure students remain safe. While “hardening schools” and physical security measures get a lot of attention, effective prevention efforts and cooperation between schools and law enforcement are best practices for school safety, experts in the field say.

Such prevention work has been the subject of a surge of interest since the Feb. 14 school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where families of the 17 people killed in that incident say schools and law enforcement did not do enough to act on concerns that the gunman posed a threat to himself or others. In response, states and non-profit organizations have set up anonymous reporting systems that allow students to report concerns about a range of safety and school climate issues. Many are modeled on a tipline Colorado created after the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. Operators credit that tipline with helping to thwart credible shooting plans, even plans in other states.

In response to the Columbine shooting, the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center analyzed 37 targeted school attacks that occurred between 1974 and 2000. It concluded that attackers in 31 of those events had told at least one person about their plans beforehand.

In 22 cases, two or more people knew about the planned attack in advance, the agency found. In most cases, those peers were classmates, siblings, and friends of the attackers. Those findings are still frequently cited by youth-violence-prevention experts.

“Students, teachers, staff, school resource officers, and parents should be provided training and guidance on recognizing behaviors of concern, their roles and responsibilities in reporting the behavior, and how to report the information,” the Threat Assessment Center said in a July report about threat assessment, a process schools use to identify students who may pose a threat to themselves or others.

Related reading on school safety: In the months since the Parkland shooting, a rift has grown between angry victims’ families and their school district. Education Week reporter Ben Herold explores the district’s actions in a special package of stories.

Photo: Marietta Bryant exits the Civic Hall Performing Arts Center after reuniting with her son, Austin, following a shooting that occurred at Dennis Intermediate School on Dec. 13, in Richmond, Ind. --Jordan Kartholl/The Palladium-Item via AP

Related reading about school shootings, violence prevention:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.