FBI Special Agent Emily Vacher talked about the psychology of a school shooter at a special superintendent's day at the Canastota High School last week.
Vacher said school shooters can be an outsider, a student or a parent of a student or employee or someone known to someone at the school. She said the myth is that school violence is on the rise. What is on the rise is the media coverage made possible through the Internet.
"Don't be afraid," Vacher said. "Just be aware."
There is no one profile of a school shooter, Vacher said. Anyone can become one. But it's important to recognize the "observable behavior on the way to planning an attack."
"It's rarely spur of the moment and most are well planned a year or more in advance," Vacher said.
Look for the signs in youth, Vacher said. There are three major categories: Mentally ill individuals only represent about 5 percent of the cases. One sign is anti-social behavior, aggressiveness or gang association. The last is the "normal" appearing youth who may be emotionally troubled underneath, lonely with feelings of inferiority and dissatisfied with life.
Vacher said recognizing these signs must begin in the home even if it means going into the youth's bedroom.
Family dynamics include lack of discipline, too much freedom, no respect, divorced parents, access to weapons, nonchalant attitude toward parents, student rules the roost, a disregard of "danger signs."
Then there is the school dynamics, Vacher said. Does the youth lack responsibility? Is he tolerant of student's taunts? Is there an imbalance of attention to students seen as popular at the school? Does that youth have a connection with an adult? Kid's that have at least five adults they trust are more adjusted that a student who has no one, she said. Is there bullying going on? Vacher said today kids take bullying to a new level, using a cell phone to text another student. Does the school dynamic have a "code of silence" or no rat policy among peers?