Averted Targeted School Violence Report Released Today

The Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) released its 2021 report on Averted Targeted School Violence today.

I urge you to download and read this report now as it has strong implications for the return to in-person learning for many students.

The report summarizes the findings of a detailed study of 67 averted school attacks. A comparison of home life factors, behaviors and stressors of “plotters” of averted attacks with those who completed attacks, reveals many similarities and a few critical differences.

The primary difference that leapt out at me today is that the highest proportion of plotters planned their attacks for the month of April.

With the April return to school for many students, it’s imperative that we train our staff members on concerning behaviors, reporting procedures and intervention strategies so we can assist students experiencing increased stress during this time.

According to the Secret Service report, stressors experienced by the plotters were:

  • Family
  • Social
  • Academic
  • Criminal/judicial
  • Change in schools
  • General/personal
  • Physical health
  • Unknown

Home life factors experienced by the students who plotted attacks were:

  • Parents divorced/separated
  • Family financial difficulty
  • Parents or sibling arrested/incarcerated
  • Family substance abuse
  • Family discord, incl. domestic violence
  • Family mental health 
  • Abuse/neglect 
  • Non-parental custody/care

In many cases of averted attacks, others have witnessed objectively concerning behaviors – threats, bringing weapons to school, physical violence, suicidal statements.

Also detected in these students were a constellation of lower-level behaviors – changes in behavior, interest in violent topics, a concerning mental status.

I think we can all agree that students have experienced unprecedented stressors over the past year. It is likely that we can’t begin to comprehend the level of stress some of our students have been living with.

Now, more than ever, we need to be vigilant and spend time checking in with our students.

We need to provide resources and we need to report concerns to our student services staff and/or administration. We must have a process in place for identifying those in need of intervention and a method for following up and providing help. We need a trained multidisciplinary threat assessment team. We need to train our students to say something to an adult when they have concerns about their peers. And, we need to act on those concerns.

I have provided only the briefest of details from the Averted Targeted School Violence report in this article. Please download it and spend some time familiarizing yourself with it. Share it with all staff members in your school and make sure everyone knows what to watch for and what to do when they see it. Only then can we feel adequately prepared for our students’ reentry to in-person learning.

My job is to make sure you have the resources you need to make your school a safer place to learn. I want you to be able to make your school safer without spending a lot. I’ve made many resources available to you at no cost, and just a few tools at minimal cost. To see the school safety resources, click here.

For a quick, low-cost way to train your entire staff online, click here. This training includes an expanded section on the warning signs of violence.

If you’d like help determining how to train your staff, feel free to contact me here.

How to Conduct a Virtual Threat Assessment



Many schools are still operating remotely and need to have a plan for conducting threat assessments virtually when someone has concerns about a student’s behavior, words or threats.

  1. To begin, revisit your existing threat assessment team and members. These are the very same people you will want to have on your virtual threat assessment team. The work is nearly the same, with the exception that it must be done via a videoconferencing platform. If you don’t currently have a threat assessment team, click here for details on who needs to be a part of it.
  2. The next step is to pull your team together as soon as possible to review previously agreed-upon roles and practices, make sure someone on the team has access to assessment and tracking forms, and review any concerns that have come to your attention over the past several months.
  3. It’s critical that your teaching staff knows what to look for and how to report any concerns so they can be assessed and acted upon. Your threat assessment team can put together a plan for staff training or dissemination of guidelines to keep everyone in the loop.

Many of the stressors affecting students remain the same as those prior to the pandemic. But, virtual learning has brought unique issues to the forefront that should be explored with students:

  • Social isolation
  • Lesser or greater parental supervision
  • Loss of regular contact with coaches, clergy, school staff and other trusted adults
  • Increase in anxiety, depression, and hopelessness
  • Concerns about societal and political unrest that has been in the news over the past year
  • Increased exposure to family conflict or violence
  • Increase in cyberbullying due to time spent on the Internet and social media
  • Decreased engagement in school
  • Experiences of loss

When concerns about a student are brought to the team’s attention, the team will need to:

  • Meet to review the known facts
  • Complete a preliminary assessment, noting gaps in information
  • Assign responsibilities for gathering additional information
  • Meet again promptly to review new information
  • Determine level and type of risk for the student
  • Create an intervention plan
  • Implement the plan with the help of parents or others in the student’s life
  • Monitor student’s progress
  • Re-assess as needed

If you’re wondering what to consider as schools start to reopen, be sure to read this.

To learn more about the threat assessment process, click here to access Virginia’s model threat assessment program.

Stay safe!