What We Can Learn From A School Shooting That Almost Happened

“Fellow students are an absolute critical part of prevention efforts.”

By Laura IsenseeOctober 18, 2018 10:01 am, ,

From Houston Public Media:

A school shooting can be dreaded news for a parent. But while the list of recent school shootings in the U.S. is horrifying – Sandy Hook, Parkland, Santa Fe – it’s even more disturbing to consider how long the list would be if it included school shootings that almost happened.

There was one such case in the Houston area not too long ago.

Lt. Tiffany Jefferson is with the Houston Police Department and works with Crime Stoppers of Houston.

“So, on Feb. 7th of 2017, we had a student that was a juvenile. He pretty much told his plans of placing bombs in a school cafeteria, and that student went on to say that when the bombs explode, the students are going to flee the building; they will be shot, in the event they flee the via the building,” Jefferson says.

Jefferson says another student heard about the plan and called in an anonymous tip to Crime Stoppers. Crime Stoppers of Houston is a public safety nonprofit that increasingly deals with school safety. Jefferson won’t reveal the school’s name to keep the tip line anonymous, and she won’t identify the student because he’s a minor. But what she does want to emphasize is that the group took the tip very seriously.

“There was a campus officer that was immediately contacted by one of our Crime Stoppers investigators, and the juvenile who was identified was actually arrested for third-degree felony and for terroristic threat – and they were charged,” Jefferson says.

Jefferson says later, the school police didn’t find explosives on campus. Still, experts say this shooting that almost happened offers key lessons.

Marisa Randazzo used to work with the U.S. Secret Service as its chief research psychologist. Now, she co-founded a company that’s helping Texas schools do threat assessments. Randazzo says in over three quarters of actual school shootings, the shooter told someone about his plans, so authorities want to hear from that person.

“We’ve known that fellow students are an absolute critical part of prevention efforts,” Randazzo says. “When we can encourage people to come forward and let people know if they hear about something, like in this case, if someone is talking about planning to engage in violence at school, it is quite possible to prevent, just like it has been done here.”

In that local case in 2017, Crime Stoppers had visited the Houston-area high school months before the threat. In two sessions at the start of that school year, it coached over 2,000 teenagers on how to report tips. Rania Mankarious is Crime Stopper’s CEO.

“What went right is that the student that reported anonymously had been trained and knew what to do,” Mankarious says.

But, Mankarious says it was still a close call.

“What went wrong is the boy who made the threat had been operating under the radar until we came in and educated people. Nobody knew what to look for. Nobody noticed that his language and activity had changed. So that’s the problem,” Mankarious says.

Crime Stoppers, along with other state and national groups, are trying to reach more schools with lessons on what to look for so would-be shooters are stopped before they can act.