Warning Signs of Violence

Compiled by Suzanne Sibole, Youth Risk Prevention Specialists

Verbal Clues

Direct and indirect threats

Verbalizing a violent plan

Recurrent suicide threats or statements

Expresses a wish to kill, to be killed or a wish to die

Threatens or brags about bringing a weapon to school

Threatening/harassing phone calls or emails

Expresses hopelessness, despair or depression

Speaking of violent behavior or fantasies

Excessive profanity (contextually inappropriate)

Challenging or intimidating statements

Threatening and/or loud speech

Name-calling or abusive language

Expresses feelings of being persecuted by other students and staff

Expresses admiration for school shooters

Has talked of plans for mayhem, but when questioned, says he/she was only joking

Behavioral/Physical Clues

Physical altercation, assault upon another person, frequent fighting

Knowledgeable about and/or has used weapons; access to weapons

Drawings and other creative outlets with persistent or intense violent themes

Has a preference for violent media such as bloody action films and first-person shooter games

Violent attire (camouflage fatigues, violent message shirts)

Physically intimidates peers/younger children

Following/surveilling targeted individuals

Short-fused, loss of emotional control

Destruction of property


Victim of bullying or teasing; feels concerns are being ignored

Deteriorating physical appearance and self-care

Possession of violent literature and information pertaining to known or suspected hate groups

Inappropriate displays of emotion, particularly anger, depression or rage

Isolated and withdrawn; rejects communication

Signs or history of substance use/abuse/dependence

Signs of depression/severe mood swings

Rebellion against school authority

Identifiably violent tattoos

Does not show concern for legal and personal consequences

Downloads bomb-making recipes or detailed information on school shootings from Internet

Has developed a hit list of enemies or has drawn plans of the school

Appears to lack appropriate empathy for victim(s)

Is observed during student interview as maintaining prolonged stares

Is observed as having signs of agitation during student interview: pacing, clenching fists and teeth


Sees self as victim of a particular individual

Grudges and deep resentments

Particular object of desire

Perceived injustices, humiliations, disrespect

Thoughts of death or other incidents of violence

Narrow focus – “sees no way out”- tunnel vision

Publicized acts of violence

Historically violent figures

Violent music and other media

Weapons and destruction



Brooding over an event where he/she was unfairly treated or humiliated

Perception of being unfairly treated

Persecutory delusions with self as victim


Delusions, in general

Command hallucinations

Grandiose delusions that involve power, control, destruction

Significantly deteriorated thought processes


History of being bullied or teased dating back to elementary years

History of bringing a weapon to school

History of violent acts

Has been prescribed antipsychotic or antidepressant medications

If you see a collection of warning signs in someone about whom you have concerns, and are uncertain of how to proceed, read this.


Mohandie, K. (2002). School Violence Threat Assessment, San Diego: Specialized Training Services

Lieberman, J.A. (2008). School Shootings, New York: Citadel Press

Cullen, D. (2009). Columbine. New York: Hachette Book Group

Letson, T. (2009). Bullystoppers.com