School Climate & Safety

Washington School Shooter Signaled Intentions in Text Messages, Records Say

By Evie Blad — November 20, 2014 2 min read
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The teen who opened fire in a cafeteria at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington state last month hinted at his intentions in advance through dark text messages he sent to family and friends, a court document says.

The text messages sent by Jaylen Fryberg, 15, fit into a pattern described by school violence experts. Although media accounts commonly say shooters “just snapped,” a majority signal their intentions in advance, sometimes even explicitly detailing their plans to friends or family.

Fryberg killed himself and four classmates—Gia Soriano, Zoe Galasso and Shaylee Chuckulnaskit, all 14, and Andrew Fryberg, 15. A fifth victim, Nate Hatch, 14, is recovering at home.

Minutes before the Oct. 24 shooting, Fryberg sent a text message to “more than a dozen relatives describing what he wanted to wear at his funeral,” the Everett Herald reports, citing a search warrant affidavit.The message “included a detailed list of who should get his personal possessions,” and Fryberg “also asked relatives to apologize to the families of his friends ‘who get caught up in the (expletive) tomorrow'—referring to the day after the shooting,” the paper reports.

Fryberg also sent messages to a 15-year-old girl described as “a close friend” after something that happened between the two upset him, the paper reports. From the Herald:

Investigators know what happened between the two but decided against including specifics in the search warrant to protect her identity, court papers said. On Oct. 18 Jaylen sent this text: 'Ohk (sic) well don't bother coming to my funeral' The girl stopped responding and ignored other text messages. Then on Oct. 22, Jaylen texted: 'I set the date. Hopefully you regret not talking to me,' 'You have no idea what I'm talking about. But you will,' and 'Bang bang I'm dead' "

The morning of the shooting, Fryberg sent another friend a Facebook message of a photo of himself with a gun between his legs, the paper reported, along with a message that the girl should “call me before I do this.”

What are the school climate implications of this?

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, observers were quick to point out that Fryberg, a football player and homecoming prince, didn’t meet the stereotype of a school shooter. But, as I wrote earlier this month, a Secret Service analysis of school shootings determined that there is no typical school shooter.

The misconception that only certain kinds of socially isolated students commit acts of violence against their peers can hinder reporting of information that could be valuable in halting such attacks or getting mental health support for vulnerable students, school violence experts say.

While school attackers share very few demographic traits, most of them have one thing in common—“leaking” hints of their intentions in advance, experts say. In 31 of the 37 events studied in the Secret Service analysis, shooters told at least one person about their plans beforehand. Threat assessment experts stress that reviewing such ‘leakage’ in the aftermath of an attack should not be seen as an act of placing blame. Rather, learning about the attackers’ communications can help strengthen future threat assessment.

While schools around the country have responded to past shootings with costly equipment and safety upgrades, creating a supportive environment where students feel comfortable reporting concerns to an adult they trust is equally important, school safety experts have said. Some states have also created advanced anonymous tip lines that allow students to seek help for a range of concerns, ranging from suicidal thoughts and threats of violence to persistent bullying.

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