According to a tally by the non-profit Gun Violence Archive, as of July 10th, 2022, there have been over 300 mass shootings in which four or more people were shot or killed in a single incident, resulting in over of 260 deaths and over 1000 injured. Most recently, on July 4th, 2022, seven people were killed and dozens more were injured during a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parage in Highland Park, Illinois. This was another in a string of acts of mass violence this summer, to include the May 24th, 2022, mass shooting where 19 children and two teachers were fatally shot by an 18-year-old gunman at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Just 10 days prior to that, in another terrorizing act of targeted mass violence at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, 10 more people were killed and three were injured.

I have seen throughout my personal and professional networks fear, anger, anxiety, hopelessness, and confusion relating to these terror-inducing school shootings and acts of targeted, mass violence. Although I in no way have all of the answers, as a former contract psychologist with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s Behavioral Threat Assessment Unit (BeTA), I do have some related knowledge and training that I would love to share in hopes we can join together in a collective effort of mass violence prevention, especially within our own state of North Carolina.

Pathway Behaviors – What am I Looking For in Mass Shooting Prevention?

There is no one single predictor when it comes to mass shootings or targeted acts of violence; rather, there are things we look for, described as proximal and distal risk factors, to consider as “present” or “absent” in considering a person’s overall risk for targeted violence. Put simply, keep an eye out for these potential warning signs for targeted violence:

  • Shares thoughts of violence (i.e., harming others or carrying out an attack) to others through writing, art, online activities, or statements to others (called “leakage behavior”)
  • Directly communicating threats to someone (i.e., “I’m here to ensure you never walk out this door again”; “I will kill you”; “Anybody in my shoes would probably kill you;” “If you do that again, I will end your life”).
  • Threatening or engaging in actual violence
  • Fantasizing or being preoccupied about mass shootings and/or other targeted violent acts
  • Sudden change in behavior or appearance
  • Drug or Alcohol use
  • Sudden change in overall mental health (i.e., suicidal ideation; depression; increased anxiety; antisocial behavior; mania; experiencing hallucinations and/or delusions)
  • Engaging in intentional delinquent fire-setting and/or cruelty towards animals
  • Withdrawal from friends/social activities
  • Increased absenteeism/tardiness to work, school, or events
  • Inappropriate interest in or increased attempts to gain access to weapons
  • Researching and/or sharing interest in, or identifying with, extremist groups and/or hate groups
  • Blaming other for their problems or refusing to take any responsibility for their own actions

In addition to the above, when considering school violence prevention specifically, here are some warning behaviors to look for:

  • Decline in school performance
  • Bullying/harassing others
  • Bringing weapons to school, or talking about bringing weapons to school

Additional resources for K-12 schools, colleges or universities, institution administrators, and policy makers can be found here

What do I do if I think a community member, coworker, family member, or student may be a concern to engage in an act of targeted violence, such as a school shooting or workplace shooting?

Reach out to local law enforcement and share what you have observed and ask if they partner with the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation’s (SBI) Behavioral Threat Assessment (BeTA) Unit!

Additional resources for law enforcement and law enforcement agencies can be found here!

The Behavioral Threat Assessment Unit was developed by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) to take a proactive approach to prevent violence in our communities. Staffed by law enforcement officers, intelligence analysts and mental health professionals, the BeTA Unit’s mission is to identify, investigate, evaluate and manage person(s) of concern within North Carolina who are recognized as having motive and means to develop, or act on an opportunity to commit a targeted attack.

The BeTA Unit is intended to serve North Carolina law enforcement by assisting in the evaluation of persons of concern through an evidence-based threat assessment process. This process is intended to determine if a person of concern is exhibiting behaviors consistent with the pathway to violence and identify appropriate management and mitigation recommendations for the individual.

  • The goal is to be proactive and mitigate acts of targeted violence and not to be punitive towards the student, employee, or family member
  • Compliments work being done by a school or workplace threat assessment team
  • Assessment will provide recommendations for reducing a student or employee’s risk factors for committing a violent act
  • For students, the goal is to enable the student to remain positively engaged in the learning environment

However, it’s important to clarify that the BeTA unit must work with a local law enforcement partner, including but not limited to a School Resource Officer, in order to initiate and continue an investigation. Thus, reaching out to local law enforcement and/or your School Resource Officer is oftentimes the best first step in mass violence prevention.

If you think an individual is exhibiting one or more of the potential warning signs for targeted violence, you may also reach out to the BeTA unit directly for additional guidance:

1-888-624-7222 or ncbeta@ncsbi.gov

 If you or someone you know needs trauma therapy or grief counseling in North Carolina, our team of trauma-informed clinicians are here to help. Or perhaps news relating to mass shootings has increased your own anxiety, and you feel scared to leave the house? We can help. The professionals at Be Bold Psychology and Consulting understand how grief, anxiety, and trauma affects our bodies and minds. Using a variety of empirically supported treatments, including cognitive processing therapy, somatic based interventions, DBT, CBT, and EMDR, our talented clinicians in North Carolina can help you get “unstuck.” You can self-schedule a free 20-minute consult via our appointment request, and start receiving therapy for trauma, grief, anxiety, or depression today!

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