>Awareness. Intervention. School climate. Knowledge is power. Speak; never assume.
In a school district near us, all of these came together to prevent a potential tragedy. As two students and a recent graduate plotted and planned, one of their friends realized that this was not a joke. He intervened. He was aware of the plot. The school climate was one where he was able to share his knowledge and feel safe about it. He spoke up. Part of his rationale included the idea that if this plot were real, he had a responsibility to save lives. Another part of his rationale was the need to get help for his friends. If they were talking about an attack of this magnitude, real or not, they needed counseling.
In the most recent shooting, some of these links were broken. Apparently, the young shooter had vented to his friends and other adults in the community about his anger. He had made veiled remarks that the principal wouldn’t make it past Homecoming. He had been suspended for aggression towards a teacher (throwing a stapler) and his reaction was limited to regret that the stapler hadn’t hit its target.
Here, people assumed. “No, we didn’t think he was serious. He wouldn’t do anything.”
They didn’t speak until it was too late. His ominous statements about the upcoming date? Ignored. Brushed off. This knowledge became power for the shooter, not the victims, because no one spoke up. Their awareness was compromised by their assumptions that “it doesn’t happen here. He’s not serious.”
It sounded like the school climate was excellent. The principal was an active part of the community, well-liked and well-respected, and an effective leader in this small district.
Intervention was limited to what happened at the moment. The school security plans worked; no students or other staff were injured or killed. A staff member (engineer or custodian) recognized the danger immediately and took action, wrestling a rifle or shotgun from the shooter. He was scared — no, terrified — when he realized the shooter had a second weapon.
There are times in many teachers’ lounges when the staff talks about events like this. “Could it happen here?” we wonder. And of course, it could. Our responsibility is to be aware, intervene, speak, use our knowledge, and never assume. Like the young man in Green Bay, we need to speak up. If the threat is credible, we may prevent it. If not, we can at least get help for the disturbed young people who plan such desperate acts.