COLUMBUS, Ohio – Teachers from across the state gathered for the first of ten scheduled seminars on Thursday hoping to share information that might help prevent school shootings before they ever happen.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says his office began the process of helping prepare law enforcement officials better deal with active shooters inside schools after the Chardon tragedy.
But, DeWine says because teachers and school administrators are the real first responders in such incidents he felt information about potential shooters also needed to be shared with them.
Through DeWine’s office, Law Enforcement Training Officer James Burke on Thursday led the first of those sessions sharing information that has been compiled from the study of dozens of shooting incidents at schools, churches and businesses.
“For a lot of years we have prepared both law enforcement and educators for what to do if the active shooter is in the building. We need to start looking for signs that they exhibit beforehand, so we can attempt to stop them before the shooting starts,” said Burke, explaining to Fox 8 News that the objective is not only to prevent anyone from dying inside a school but to also help the individual that might become an active shooter.
Burke told educators that shooters are often young males between 14 and 20 years old. He explained that many times they have had a troubled home life and may have had a history of mental problems. Often the gunmen have abused psychotropic drugs, have had poor academic performance, are on what he calls the ‘social fringe’ and frequently display anger or rage.
He told teachers and others that one of the best places to assess what someone who fits that profile is thinking is to examine their Facebook page.
“They often turn in assignments to teachers that almost outline exactly what they end up doing. They talk to other kids about it. They make website postings. It’s almost like they are crying out for somebody to say ‘hey, what’s going on here?’, and when that doesn’t happen they keep escalating and escalating and escalating. They want a reaction,” said Burke.
Using the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings as examples, Burke pointed out how warning signs were there before the shootings but they were either dismissed or ignored or the different people who saw different signs never communicated them with one another.
“A teacher might see one. A law enforcement officer might see another. A parent might see another. A coach might see another. It’s getting all of those people together and communicate what they might be seeing so we can put the picture together before the shooting rather than after.”
Among the participants in Thursday’s inaugural session were teachers, administrators and school resource officers from Perry Local Schools in Stark County and Green Local Schools in Summit County.
“I think it could happen anywhere. I mean, I think it’ happened up in our area- Chardon and you know now in Sandy Hook and Columbine and all the other places so it could happen anywhere. So, I think we all have to be prepared,” said Bill Hildebrand, Assistant Principal at Perry High.
“It’s something that we need to be aware of and what iIam hearing is that there are things we can look for- the heightened awareness that I think I want of my administrators and staff and the ability to communicate with law enforcement. You know, if you see something- tell somebody.” said Green Superintendent Mike Nutter.
“It’s all about knowledge. It’s all about information. We don’t pretend that one course is going to stop this from happening in the future but we all have an obligation to do whatever we can to identify people, young people, who have mental health problems and try to give them help and give them assistance,” said DeWine.
The attorney general says he will continue to schedule seminars around the state for as long as there is an interest and he believes the interest is rapidly growing.
The interest is from not only educators in urban school districts, but from rural school districts, too.
“We are all in it for the students,” said Mike Saffell, Principal of Belmont Career Center in Belmont Ohio, adding, “If something like that happens to students, I’m sure they look back and say what could I have done different and I guess that’s sort of the reason why I am here trying to keep those kind of situations from happening.”