Mass Attacks in Public Spaces Demand America’s Vigilance

April 5, 2018 Updated: April 5, 2018

Although vigilance is always the order of every day, the month of April is unique due to anniversaries of horrendous attacks at Virginia Tech and Columbine.

On April 16, we reverently pause to remember the 33 lives lost in 2007 at Virginia Tech.

On April 20, we solemnly remember the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School that left 15 dead.

America’s culture of violence demands eternal vigilance. The month of April, as remembered through these tragedies, demands heightened vigilance at all or our schools, colleges, and universities.

Secret Service Reports Deserve Study

In my office are two significant studies by the United States Secret Service and the United States Department of Education. These have been continually referenced in my school violence prevention initiatives since they were published in 2002.

Due to the courtesy of these agencies, I have distributed thousands of copies to law enforcement officials and educators at my violence prevention speaking venues.

The first report is titled “The Final Report And Findings Of The Safe School Initiative: Implications For The Prevention Of School Attacks In The United States.”

The document deserves to be studied in its entirety, but it highlights 10 key findings, which are as follows:

  • Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely were sudden, impulsive acts.
  • Prior to most incidents, other people knew about the attacker’s idea and/or plan to attack.
  • Most attackers did not threaten their targets directly prior to advancing the attack.
  • There is no accurate or useful “profile” of students who engaged in targeted school violence.
  • Most attackers engaged in some behavior prior to the incident that caused others concern or indicated a need for help.
  • Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Moreover, many had considered or attempted suicide.
  • Many attackers felt bullied, persecuted, or injured by others prior to the attack.
  • Most attackers had access to and had used weapons prior to the attack.
  • In many cases, other students were involved in some capacity.
  • Despite prompt law enforcement responses, most shooting incidents were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention.

It is important to note that although these findings were published in 2002, they are still a factor in attacks throughout America.

The second report is titled “Threat Assessment In Schools: A Guide To Managing Threatening Situations And To Creating Safe School Climates.”

Along with the afore-mentioned study, this document also deserves to be studied in its entirety. But, for the sake of brevity, it highlights the 10 findings in the safe school initiative report and encourages fostering a culture of respect and breaking the “Code of Silence.”

This study also emphasizes that the primary purpose of a threat assessment is to prevent targeted violence. Six principles form the foundation of the process:

  • Targeted violence is the end result of an understandable, and oftentimes discernible process of thinking and behavior.
  • Targeted violence stems from an interaction among the individual, the situation, the setting, and the target.
  • An investigative, skeptical, inquisitive mindset is critical to successful threat assessment.
  • Effective threat assessment is based upon facts, rather than characteristics or “traits.”
  • An “integrated systems approach” should guide threat assessment inquiries and investigations.
  • The central question in a threat assessment inquiry or investigation is whether a student poses a threat, not whether the student has made a threat.

One lesson from these reports is that a threat assessment program is critical for every school, campus, and university in America.  Members of the team that identify, assess, or manage threatening situations should be drawn from both the school and community.  The team should include law enforcement, mental health professionals, administrators, teachers, attorneys, school security personnel, and psychologists.

Secret Service: 2018 Report on Mass Attacks

In March 2018 the National Threat Assessment Center of the United States Secret Service released its newest report titled “Mass Attacks In Public Spaces—2018.”

This report deserves study by all concerned with America’s culture of violence.  It should also be utilized for school violence prevention training and for all members of threat assessment teams.

In this report of 28 incidents of mass attacks in 2017, whereby 147 lives were lost and nearly 700 injured, similar themes in the backgrounds of attackers were observed which included the following:

  • Nearly half were motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic, or other issue.
  • Over half had histories of criminal charges, mental health symptoms, and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
  • All had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and over half had indications of financial instability in that timeframe.
  • Over three-quarters made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks. On average, those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not.

Final Reflections

In my presentations throughout the United States since the Columbine tragedy, and in my collection of published works, I have continually emphasized leadership, vigilance, and collaboration.

These principles are critical to violence prevention. They are also the underlying foundation of not only the aforementioned Secret Service reports, but of every credible crisis management model.

America’s culture of violence is a tragic commentary of our times with yet another active shooter incident taking place at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California, as I write this article. But there is hope for secure schools, campuses, workplaces, and communities.

Our nation must persevere to end the scourge of violence, and to reawaken the nation through our shared responsibility, unwavering determination, and moral courage.


Epoch Times Photo
Vincent J. Bove

Vincent J. Bove, CPP, is a national speaker and author on issues critical to America. Bove is a recipient of the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award for combating crime and violence and is a former confidant of the New York Yankees. His newest book is “Listen to Their Cries.” For more information, see

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.