In the 41 mass violence events at K-12 schools between 2008 and 2017, more than half of the attackers engaged in observable planning behaviors, including web searches related to weapons and protective equipment and online research about previous mass violence attacks.

75% of School Attackers Exhibited Concerning Behaviors Online

Additionally, 75 percent of those planning an attack exhibited concerning behaviors online.  

These are two of the key findings from the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) report examining school violence, and the background and behaviors of those carrying out the attacks.

In-depth Analysis by the U.S. Secret Service

The recent report, Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence is one of the most in-depth analyses in the past decade, and came after the mass shooting attacks in Parkland, Florida and Santa Fe, Texas.

The last report of this kind, the 2002 Safe School Initiative study,was conducted in response to the Columbine shooting.

Rarely Sudden or Impulsive

Both the 2019 and 2002 reports found that incidents of targeted violence were rarely sudden or impulsive, that most attackers engaged in concerning behaviors prior to an attack, and that other people knew about the attacker’s idea or plan.

With the goal of sharing best practices to help schools prevent these mass violent attacks, what are the key learnings, if so much has stayed the same between 2002 and today?

Let’s start with the facts from the report.

30% Exhibited Three or More Planning Activities

Of the attackers who showed planning behavior:

  • 30 percent exhibited three or more different types of planning activities that were observable to others;
  • Almost a quarter of the attackers held their first planning within a month of the event;
  • Almost 20 percent began planning between one and six months before the attack; and
  • Less than 10 percent bean planning more than six months before the attack.

100% Showed Concerning Behavior

Every one of the attackers showed concerning behaviors, which elicited concern from friends and others 80 percent of the time:

  • Almost 95 percent of those behaviors were displayed at school;
  • Three-quarters were displayed in the home and the community; and
  • Three-quarters were displayed online.

Online Search Terms Included “School Shooting, Killer and Hate”


In explaining the behaviors displayed online, the NTC referenced the example of a middle school student who killed himself after shooting a teacher and injuring two classmates. The student owned forty-seven first-person shooter video games and stored photos of the Columbine shooters on his phone.  His online searches included terms like: bullying, Top 10 evil children, Super Columbine Massacre Role Playing Game, shoot, guns, revenge, murder, school shooting, killer, hate, and what if Nazi’s won WW2.

While these are just a sampling of the findings from the report, taken in its entirety the NTAC says the findings can inform best practices and support a school’s multidisciplinary threat assessment programs.

Building a Robust Threat Assessment Program

Those threat assessment programs, outlined in a DHS report from July 2018, were in addition to recommendations for schools to:

  • Establish central reporting mechanisms;
  • Identify student behaviors of concern;
  • Define the threshold for law enforcement intervention;
  • Promote safe school climates; and
  • Identify intervention and management strategies.

Smart Phone Reporting Apps and Assessment Procedures

On the issue of central reporting mechanisms, the report notes that threatening or concerning statements can be made in person, online or in text messages, and that schools should employ tools like online web forms, dedicated email addresses/phone numbers or a smart phone app.

The report also recommends setting up assessment procedures once those reports come in, like examining online behavior and social media postings.

Lumina School Offer

Lumina’s AI-driven Radiance technology can play a critical role in helping schools identify concerning behaviors online and understand planning activities of those preparing to engage in violence. The S4 (See Something, Say Something) app, provides a centralized reporting mechanism for students, parents and faculty to share concerning behaviors.

Lumina’s S4 app stands out from other mobile reporting tools because information gathered from confidential tips can also be run through Radiance’s OS-INT platform, which scours the internet for all publicly available data against a variety of risk factors related to school violence and other threats.

Learn more about our school offer.

Try Radiance for free today.