School Climate & Safety

School Shootings: Sandy Hook Promise Ad Shares Warning Signs for Gun Violence

By Evie Blad — December 02, 2016 2 min read
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The Sandy Hook Promise released a powerful new ad this week with a surprise twist that calls on viewers to look for the early warning signs of gun violence.

The organization—founded by some families of the 26 victims of a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.—released the ad to promote its free “Know the Signs” program, which it created to “teach youth and adults how to recognize an individual exhibiting at-risk behaviors and how to effectively intervene to get them help BEFORE they hurt themselves or others.”

While mass shootings are often portrayed as sudden and unexpected acts, researchers say attackers often “leak” their plans to peers or demonstrate warning signs ahead of time.

To avoid ruining the storyline, I will let you watch the ad for yourself.

“When you don’t know what to look for or can’t recognize what you are seeing, it can be easy to miss warning signs or dismiss them as unimportant. That can lead to tragic consequences, including someone hurting themselves or others,” Nicole Hockley, the organization’s co-founder and managing director who lost her 1st grade son Dylan in the shootings, said in a statement. “It is important for us to show youth and adults that they are not helpless in protecting their community from gun violence—these acts are preventable when you know the signs. Everyone has the power to intervene and get help. These actions can save lives.”

As I wrote in 2014, the Sandy Hook shootings sparked a renewed interest in tip lines and anonymous reporting systems:

A 2002 report by the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, prepared after the agency analyzed 37 school attacks that occurred between 1974 and 2000, 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 study concluded. In nearly all cases, those peers were classmates, siblings, and friends of the attackers, it said. ‘A friend or schoolmate may be the first person to hear that a student is thinking about or planning to harm someone,’ the Secret Service report said. ‘Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, those who have information about a potential incident of targeted school violence may not alert an adult on their own.’

In the case of Newtown, gunman Adam Lanza was considered “uniquely isolated,” a psychologist said in 2014:

Lanza had a shooting range in the basement of the home he shared with his mother. He obsessively edited Wikipedia pages about school shootings, and he played first-person shooter video games for as long as 14 hours a day. Lanza spent months not talking to his mother, communicating solely through notes passed under the door, a state investigation released after the shootings said.

Sandy Hook Promise says that, in 22 months, it has trained 1.5 million students, teachers, school officials, and parents in at least one of its programs. It says those programs have “helped intervene on multiple threats— including a school shooting, suicides and bringing firearms to schools, as well as helping to reduce bullying and getting hundreds of individuals mental health assistance.”

Related reading on school shootings and gun violence:

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