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Tue, March 19

Preventing school shootings: It isn't easy, experts say, but some steps can save lives

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s 10th annual National Security and Intelligence Symposium in Phoenix. (Scott Orr/The Daily Courier)

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s 10th annual National Security and Intelligence Symposium in Phoenix. (Scott Orr/The Daily Courier)

PHOENIX - The take-away from Thursday's seminar was that it can be difficult to predict what individual may decide to attack a school, but there are things schools can do to minimize injuries if he does.

That's what 140 police officers, security personnel, teachers and administrators heard at the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's 10th annual National Security and Intelligence Symposium in Phoenix.

The event was titled, "School Shootings: Prevention, Mitigation and Recovery," and throughout the day, experts explained what they've learned about the men and boys - they are almost always males - who commit these crimes and how to stop them.

Prescott Valley police officer David Grant, a school resource officer at Bradshaw Mountain High School, said he wanted to learn what to watch for on campus.

"I came here to get a little bit better understanding, to help prepare for this type of situation," he said. "It's always better to be pro-active and prepared than to be reactive and not prepared."

Dr. John Liebert, a forensic psychiatrist, gave examples of factors that might help pinpoint potential shooters before they act. One of them: the fact that nearly all were failing, flunking out or had left school before finishing.

But, Rich Wilson, of Sigma Threat Management Associates, said, "There's absolutely no profile for a person who engages in mass shootings. It doesn't exist."

He pointed out the case of the 2010 University of Alabama-Huntsville attack. The shooter was Amy Bishop, a professor who was denied tenure and gunned down six people, killing three of them.

"When did we see a profile of a 40-something, white female with a PhD (as a shooter)?" Wilson asked.

He said behavioral threat assessment could help identify those more likely to engage in a school shooting, because "these people don't just snap. All those studies, all that data tells us that there's planning that goes into it."

Some of the speakers outlined what could be done if an attack on a school happens.

One of the most basic concepts, said John McGrath, a 35-year police officer who now works at Raytheon Missile Systems, is Run-Hide-Fight.

If there's an attack, "run as far, as fast you can and don't stop until you get home or someplace safe," he advised students.

"If you can't run, hide," he continued, and schools need to work out specific plans for how to do a "hard lockdown."

The last resort, McGrath said, was to fight back.

"Be cognizant of what you can use inside your lockdown rooms as weapons," he said. Teachers could spray a fire extinguisher in the gunman's face, throw large, heavy books or even use the classroom's flagpole as a lance.

He does not advocate arming teachers or administrators with guns.

"It's a practical issue," he said. Police are given extensive training on firearm use, "and a small percentage of that training actually involves shooting the gun.

"Carrying a gun to protect others in a densely populated environment like a school - I personally don't recommend it," McGrath said.

Also attending was Pamela Dickerson, principal of Prescott's Sacred Heart Catholic Elementary School. Tom Foley, the ERAU professor who organized the symposium, assigned one of his classes to study Dickerson's school and suggest ideas to make the campus less vulnerable to attack. The class developed a 150-page report and the school has implemented nearly all the recommendations.

"It's very important information," she said. "We're going to talk about (Run-Hide-Fight) within our staff."

"I think the threat of violence has increased. It is our new world and we have to accept it," Kristen Rex, district executive officer at the Yavapai Accommodation School District, said. "Violence in school is here. It's not going away."

Follow Scott Orr on Twitter @AZNewsguy.


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