Former Secret Service Researcher Tells Sandy Hook Advisory Commission That Some Future Shootings Are Preventable

by Categorized: Gov. Dannel Malloy, Newtown, Sandy Hook Date:

A school shooting expert told the governor’s commission Friday that future shootings are sometimes preventable because students often talk to others about their plans or leave clues on the Internet.

As the former chief research psychologist for 10 years at the U.S. Secret Service, Marisa Reddy Randazzo has studied 37 school shootings by 41 attackers that she summarized for the special commission.

All 41 attackers were males, and many of them felt bullied before their attacks. Many were extremely depressed to the point of considering or making suicide attempts. Many had easy access to weapons in their own homes or in those of relatives.

While the stereotype is that the shooters are males 14 to 17 who wear black clothing and listen to loud music, Randazzo says that description actually covers plenty of students who are not violent. She said there is no single profile of a school shooter, citing the study of incidents in 26 states that she co-authored with four other experts.

The most interesting speaker of the day was Randazzo, a threat assessment expert who has been studying threats for 17 years. She appeared via Skype and closed the door in her home while saying that her daughter doesn\’t normally hear these types of grim details on school shootings, 37 incidents of targeted violence in schools by 41 attackers, and methods of prevention.

As managing partner of Sigma Threat Management Associates, Randazzo has researched violence extensively, including the Columbine High School shootings in 1999, the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and Secret Service assessments of threats to the President.

Among her major findings in a detailed study of school shootings was that the shooters – like in Newtown – had easy access to weapons from either their own home or a relative\’s home.

Another major finding was that most shootings lasted less than five minutes – similar to the timeframe in Newtown that is believed to be about five minutes.

Another finding is that school attacks can be stopped because the shooter often talks about his plans in advance.

\”We believe strongly that many school attacks can be prevented,\’\’ Randazzo said. \”Because these are thought out in advance\’\’ and  because the attackers often talk about the planned attack to their friends or online, some of the attacks can be stopped beforehand. 

The school shooters are not necessarily loners, and some were among the most popular students in school, she said.

The profile of a school shooter, Randazzo said, is a young white male between the ages of 14 and 17 who wears black and likes to listen to loud music.

\”We probably all know someone who fits that profile,\’\’ she said, adding that profiles are not always correct.

Regarding shooters in their early 20s, Randazzo said that most colleges fail to get any information from high schools about the students.

But a key similarity is that most of the cases were planned, often far in advance. And that planning allows other people to learn about the attacks and could potentially stop some of them.

\”It\’s different from most of the violence we see in society,\’\’ which is often impulsive violence, she said. \”There are predictive models for impulsive violence.\’\’

\”We often hear no one could have seen this coming,\’\’ said Randazzo, who holds a bachelor\’s degree from Williams College and master\’s and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton University.  \”Those are rarely the case – as we studied these 37 [school] attacks. … Instead of being impulsive, these are typically thought out in advance and planned out in advance. The planning for the attack at Columbine High School went on for well over a year and nearly two years. It\’s often detectable.\’\’

\”They\’re the end result of a logical progression of behavior,\’\’ she said.

\”Then they move on to acquiring lethal means,\’\’ she said, referring to guns and pipe bombs in some cases.

Once a potential problem is identified, she said that the student could be directed to alternative schooling or home schooling.

She said she agrees with the message that was originally created by the New York City Transit Authority that \”if you see something, say something.\’\’

\”When a teacher, when a parent, a staff member, a student, they are encouraged to go forward\’\’ and report a threat or concern, she said.

Randazzo\’s study included talking to one of the school shooters in prison in Alaska and seeking answers on why the shooter resorted to violence. She told the following chilling story.

\”He had been experiencing a fair amount of bullying in school for years,\’\’ Randazzo said of the school shooter in Alaska. \”They put notes on his back. They would jam up his locker. … He went to his adoptive mother, who happened to be the superintendent of schools. … They initially addressed the three students who had been most involved [in the bullying]. … The bullying resumed shortly after that. The response at the time was: try to ignore it. The message was ignore it or solve the problem on your own.\’\’

As a teen in Alaska, he believed that the way to solve the problem on his own was to bring a shotgun to school, Randazzo said. The student mentioned the situation to two friends, and he was told by his friends that he should not simply show the weapon but should fire the gun in school, Randazzo said.

\”The target list at that point went from three to 14. They were really starting to add to the plan as well,\’\’ Randazzo said. \”He had never used a weapon. He never loaded a weapon. … The night before, he wanted to keep a couple of his friends out of harm\’s way.\’\’

The boy then told a female friend that he would be bringing a gun to school the next day, and she responded by warning him against it and telling him that he would go to jail. That girl stayed home from school the next day.

Word spread quickly in Alaska about what the boy was going to do, and one student even brought a camera to take pictures of the shooting, Randazzo said. \”The first thing he did was he told kids in the lobby \’you better run,\’ \’\’ she said, before shooting at the ceiling at some points as he moved through the school.

\”He shot and killed the principal at that point,\’\’ Randazzo said. \”There was a lot of detailed information about what he was thinking of doing.\’\’

Based on the case in Alaska and other cases, Randazzo said, \”We believe strongly that prevention is possible.\’\’

Another major finding of her study was that many of the shooters had suffered recent losses and major trauma, including a shooter whose mother was going through a divorce and told her child that she was considering committing suicide in front of her husband. Some of the shooters themselves thought about suicide or attempted suicide before going on a school shooting.

\”We have legal tools to get them to an emergency psychological evaluation against their will\’\’ if a planned shooting is known in advance, she said.

\”Some school shooters thought they could become famous in the process,\’\’ Randazzo said. \”Some of them were neither a victim or a bully.\’\’

Some of the chronic bullying could be characterized as \”torment,\’\’ she said.

In another case, she said, \”There were a group of students who were planning a school shooting in St. Louis.\’\’

But police heard about the planning and moved quickly before it occurred.

\”We know that students and peers may be critical\’\’ and might know in advance about the plans by their friends for violence, she said.

After focusing on guns for the past two months, the governor\’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission started tackling the difficult issue of mental health Friday with its first public hearing on the issue.

The 16-member commission has already made 42 recommendations on guns and school safety issues related to Adam Lanza\’s shooting of 20 children and six female educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. While Lanza\’s private medical records have not been released concerning any diagnosis, legislators believe that he was mentally disturbed.

Kim Pernerewski, the president of the Waterbury chapter of the National Alliance of Mental Illness, said that teachers need to be aware of the issues facing their students.

\”Are we missing the boat on teaching our teachers?\’\’ she asked. \”They have a hard job out there.\’\’

\”I don\’t want Newtown to happen again,\’\’ she said. \”My God, what was in that kid\’s mind? What happened? That poor father. What must he be going through now? Nobody wants to be that parent. … This is not just a gun issue. This goes deeper – much, much, much deeper. And trust me, I don\’t like guns.\’\’

The committee chairman, Hamden Mayor Scott Jackson, said that resolving mental health issues is not easy.

\”There is no magic bullet solution,\’\’ he said.

The speakers Friday also included Louise C. Pyers, executive director of the nonprofit research group known as the Connecticut Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement, and Sgt. Christopher McKee from the Windsor Police Department\’s crisis intervention team.

Statewide, there are 42 police departments that have crisis intervention teams, and another 30 departments are in the process of forming such teams in collaboration with the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and NAMI of Connecticut. Those teams divert people with mental illness \”to the services they need, rather than making an arrest,\’\’ Pyers said.

But Dr. Harold Schwartz, the vice president of behavioral health at Hartford Hospital and the psychiatrist-in-chief at the Institute of Living, said he was surprised that only 42 police departments had the program, adding that he will call West Hartford\’s mayor to learn why his hometown police department is not on the list.

\”Some department don\’t understand what CIT is all about,\’\’ said Pyers, referring to crisis intervention teams. \”Some think it is related to hostage negotiations. … They think, \’We already have hostage negotiators, so we\’re all set with that.\’ \’\’

Pyers noted that the police officers themselves often need help because of the horrorific scenes they have witnessed. For both police officers and the victims\’ families, the memories of Newtown will not go away soon.

\”Every December 14, every birthday, Mother\’s Day, they will be thinking about their children,\’\’ said Pyers, who has a family member with mental illness. \”This is not done in a year. … We know those families will need help, probably for the rest of their lives. And the police officers will, too.\’\’

McKee said that police need to analyze particular situations \”so we are not simply jumping to arrest.\’\’ Sometimes the person could be better served by a mobile crisis center, he said.

\”You have some folks who are at the end of their rope and don\’t know what to do\’\’ who can obtain help, McKee said.

\”We\’re all human beings, first and foremost,\’\’ said Officer Susan Brown, an 18-year veteran who serves on the crisis intervention team at the Windsor police department. \”I don\’t care who you are or how strong you think you are, nobody came out of that unaffected. … It will bother them for the rest of their lives. It bothers me. It happened on my birthday. I will remember that on my birthday every year. … We\’re supposed to be tough. We\’re supposed to be strong. But we\’re human beings.\’\’

Bowman added, \”If you go to a psychiatrist, you might say it differently than you would say it to an officer. … Sometimes we can\’t talk about those things at home.\’\’

If an officer is calling in sick on a frequent basis, Bowman said, \”They might be sick, or they might be hurting emotionally. … It also helps us maintain a healthy lifestyle. … Sometimes we do silly things that aren\’t good for us – smoke. Years ago, every cop smoked. Now, we\’re teaching cops to take care of themselves – mentally and physically.\’\’

Bryan V. Gibb, a former classroom teacher in the California public schools who is now the director of public education for the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare, appeared via Skype because he could not attend the hearing in Hartford. He talked about mental health first aid, which involves calming strategies if the person is in crisis or experiencing a panic attack at that moment. Nationwide, the group has more than 2,500 instructors, including some who have experienced mental illness themselves. New Mexico, Arizona, and Iowa are among the leaders in the field.

Connecticut has 24 instructors who have trained 1,441 people in mental health first-aid training courses, which have been held in Newington, Bethel, New Britain, Plainville, and others.

\”Oftentimes, stigma can be a real barrier to treatment,\’\’ Gibb said.

When dealing with young people, he said that officials need to approach with open-ended questions in a nonjudgmental way, such as asking: \”I can see you\’re upset. Do you want to talk about it?\’\’

\”Individuals with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than the rest of the general population,\’\’ Gibb said.

Gibb quoted an actress who said, \”Mental illness doesn\’t separate us from the human race. It makes us part of the human race.\’\’

Deron Drumm, the co-executive director of Advocacy Unlimited Inc., said that the mental health community is important in the overall picture in the same way that the NRA is invited to talk about gun issues.

\”Our voice needs to be heard,\’\’ he said.

Earlier, Pernerewski said, \”I can\’t tell you the number of teachers who come up to me and want to talk to me privately, saying, \’I have a family member. I have a friend. I have a student. I have a daughter.\’ They\’re dealing with an awful lot of guilt. They feel like they\’ve done something wrong. … That\’s the hardest thing to get across. It\’s not your fault.\’\’

She said there are numerous resources to obtain information about mental health, including The Children and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation.

\”There are groups out there that can help you,\’\’ she said, adding that her son is involved in the mental health system.

\”As a country and a state, we tend to talk about empathy,\’\’ she said. \”We don\’t empathize sometimes, and we forget about it later on. … We forget that there are people out there who hurt every single day. … That\’s what it\’s all about. It\’s about empathizing with people.\’\’

 Dr. Ezra H. Griffith, a psychiatry professor and senior research scientist at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, asked about the insurance coverage problems with pediatric psychiatrists and other health professionals.

If the charge is $160 per visit, the psychiatrist often gets $60 because of the reduced reimbursement rates , Pernerewski said.

Griffith spoke later about colleges not getting information about students from the high schools.

\”I have not been impressed that universities handle the information very well,\’\’ Griffith said. \”The deans of students just panic and do some pretty outrageous things. They exclude the person from the university. I don\’t know if you know it, but that\’s what they do.\’\’

Regarding Randazzo\’s presentation about threat assessment teams, Dr. Adrienne Bentman of the Institute of Living said, \”I think this is an extraordinarily valuable presentation. Her description of the Alaskan school shooting … you can envision those as dramatic augmentations\’\’ of students not thinking thoroughly about what they are hearing in school and not reporting it.

The Courant is using Facebook comments on stories. To comment on courant.com articles, sign into Facebook and enter your comment in the field below. Comments will appear in your Facebook News Feed unless you choose otherwise. To report spam or abuse, click the X next to the comment. For guidelines on commenting, click here.

25 thoughts on “Former Secret Service Researcher Tells Sandy Hook Advisory Commission That Some Future Shootings Are Preventable

  1. justme

    When are the mental health of the killers going to be properly addressed with the same zeal as the gun control advocates have??????

  2. Peter Szymonik

    The actual problem we have in this state is that our mental health industry and available services have been completely co-opted by the state “family court” system and Guardian ad Litems who funnel business to these therapists (and back) them in order to perform cursory and completely useless “evaluations” for the court.

    The reason we have such a problem with access to mental health services – is because of this and the inherent dysfunction of every state agency and institution that is supposed to be helping families and children, actually prolonging, if not in fact encouraging, the suffering in order that everyone may profit from it.

    This is the reality in our state and what our legislature needs to immediately address.

  3. Truthseeker

    Well I quess they have to start looking at the mental health side with the leaks. That 4×7 spreadsheet he had for years, looking for gun free zones. But some still look at the law abiding citizen as the problem. Instead of mental problems and gun free zones the real things that need to be addressed.

  4. Randy DaRos

    With all this work left to do, why is the Legislature attempting to pass a large gun control package on an emergency certification package next week? There is clearly no acute crisis to address, so certifying it as an emergency measure to get around public debate and review does not pass the smell test.

    There is no justification for this at all.

    1. Peter Szymonik

      This is a state where the day after our Governor called for a need for better access to mental health services during a news conference about Sandy Hook, our legislature CUT funding for mental health services and hospitals. You can’t make this stuff up if you tried…

  5. John East Lyme

    The Sandy Hook Commission is the biggest joke. Just read their suggestions on firearms. Make legal gun owners sell millions of firearms because they “might” be able to hold more then ten bullets. That’s a sensible plan. Mandatory registration and taxation to exercise my constitutional rights. This committee is only out to punish every gun owner in Connecticut for the actions of one madman. They hate the 2nd Amendment an all who believe it it.Big government liberals destroying Connecticut. They are out to tax and regulate you into submissions.

  6. Jeremy

    Mental health issues must be addressed as we address availability of guns. Let’s return to the age of shotguns, revolvers and single bolt-action rifles. End of story.

    1. Fake Thomas Jefferson

      Your bicycle built for two is awaiting outside. Go down the street to the telegraph office and send me a reply later.

    2. Kim

      sure Jeremy, as soon as you turn off your running water, cable, internet and electricity.

      And you can stop shopping at the grocery store as well, or driving your car

  7. The Conn-servative

    Paragraph 4 makes a reference to a “profile” of school shooters. I thought it wasn’t politically correct to profile people or certain groups of people? Oh that’s right,only young male middle easterners,who have been traditionally linked to bombings,plane hijackings,911,etc,get a pass.Okay,I’m glad I got that straight.

    1. johngaltwhereru

      Conn-servative,

      Come on now. You know it is perfectly acceptable to profile white males. Christians too.

      Don’t you dare profile Muslims at airports though. No sir. White 80 year old guys damn well better take their shoes off and have their wheelchairs searched. Extra scrutiny for the 20 year old Somali Muslim? No sir, that is racism.

      Who cares about the history of airplane terrorism. Eventually a handicapped 80 year old white guy is going to overcome a flight crew and rush the cockpit in his hoveround.

      1. Grand Wizard

        Johngaltwhererru:

        We are in the process of reorganizing and would love for you to be a special consultant. Would you be so kind to lend your much needed services, please?

        We are environmentalists and we don’t rope trees anymore. Our activities are now practiced through metaphor.

        Your our boy.

        1. johngaltwhereru

          The bitter pill of no Assault Weapons Ban has got your mind working crooked again. That is too bad.

          Let me help you, and all the other Libs that throw racism out every time factual information you dislike is presented:

          Examples of racism include:

          I do not like that person because he is black/white/brown/yellow, ect. I will not hire that person because they are black/white/brown/yellow, ect. That person should not be allowed to vote,eat, drink, attend, ect. because they are black/white/brown/yellow, ect.

          The following is not racism: The only people who have blown up commercial airliners are fanatical muslims. More than 50% of U.S. gun murders are committed by blacks despite blacks only accounting for less than 13% of the U.S. Population.

          We could go on, but let’s see if you can tell the difference between race based hatred and uncomfortable statistical facts.

          1. Grand Wizard

            johngaltwhereru: Does this mean that you refuse to accept our offer?

            We pay and we will give you a plaque for services rendered.

            Your still our good ole boy.

        2. Kim

          billyboy’s 13th personality arises in the Grand Wizard. Instead of coming together, billyboy, you’re falling apart more and more

          1. johngaltwhereru

            Kim,

            I found GW’s comments to be more in line with the racist formerly known as Trollright.

  8. The Conn-servative

    FWIW,sarcasm aside,I support profiling.But I do not support a bunch of leftists pukes who do not want to administer it across the board in the name of security/safety.You cannot pick and choose ,which is what they do for everything. And oh by the way, granny doesn’t need to be checked at the tsa gate.

    1. Kim

      justme: it looks like Jeremy unwittingly heaped praise upon you while thinking he was doing just the opposite.

  9. Stopblaminginanimateobjects

    When are these politicians going to get their heads out of their asses. Fix the mental health care system. All these mental hospitals close, prisons close. People that need help are out there on the streets. People are losing jobs and health insurance benefits. Make it affordable for those that need the help to be able to get it.

Comments are closed.