Video: Vigilance keeps schools safer

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 3/22/2005 7:43:11 PM ET 2005-03-23T00:43:11

Police in Marshfield, Mass., believe they're an example of a school where a shooting was prevented, thanks to a student who last October tipped off authorities that two members of the high school were planning a deadly attack. They are due in court next month.

Nationwide, school safety experts say it's part of a growing trend.

"Students have realized that it's in their self-interest to report these particular types of rumors and threats," says Ronald Stephens with the National School Safety Center. "And schools across the country are setting up threat-assessment protocols."

Programs like "Safe School Ambassadors" encourage young people to defuse tensions and report suspicious behavior.

Teachers are also learning what to look for on their own, aided by a federal training program based on a detailed analysis of more than three dozen school shootings over the past 30 years.

Behavioral experts from the Secret Service debunked the once widely held notion that there was no typical profile of a school shooter, other than they were all boys. It turns out there are common patterns and warning signs.

If it's true, as relatives say, that the Red Lake shooter, Jeff Weise, was bullied by his classmates, that would fit a pattern. More than two-thirds of all school shooters felt persecuted or bullied. And they didn't just snap. More than nine out of ten thought about their attacks far in advance, most for at least two weeks. And, most important, more than three-fourths of the time, they told someone, usually a friend, about their plans.

Ed Clarke, the school safety director for Montgomery County, Md., says teachers and principals are doing a much better job now of listening.

"Rather than waiting to let a situation fester, we're doing a better job of getting in there, evaluating, and taking corrective action," he says.

Safety experts believe the approach is working.

Over the past 12 years, the number of fatal shootings at the nation's schools has dropped.  And incidents of multiple shootings are much rarer now.

Almost always, the experts say, troubled young people give off warning signs that can help prevent violence — as long as the schools know where to look.

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