Most Mass Attacks Had Warning Signs, Report Finds

Police respond to an active shooter situation at the Tree of Life synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pa., on Oct. 27, 2018. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette via AP)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Three-quarters of the attackers who terrorized schools, places of worship and businesses in the U.S. last year experienced a significant stressful event before their attack and nearly all had made a threat or concerning statement, according to a Secret Service report released Tuesday.

Analyzing 27 attacks from 2018 that took 91 lives and injured 107 more, the Secret Service found a number of key stressful triggers similar between all attackers.

Most of the stressors dealt with personal factors, such as someone facing the loss of their home, or being denied a promotion at work. Half of the incidents analyzed were motivated by grievances against a family member or a workplace dispute, the report states.

Incidents described in the report show connections between these factors, such as the case of man who opened fire in a Florida yoga studio last November, killing two and injuring five, after being discharged from the Army, losing two teaching positions and being investigated by police on multiple occasions. He had also been banned from a university campus and was avoided by acquaintances and former friends, according to the report.

Nearly all of the attackers had engaged in threatening conversations, and all but four of them had communicated things that elicited concern. Over half of the perpetrators experienced symptoms of mental health issues before their attack, the most common of which was depression.

One of four key considerations made within the report is to provide more assistance programs for employees, particularly when it comes to dealing with mental health.

“Mental illness, alone, is not a risk factor for violence, and most violence is committed by individuals who are not mentally ill,” the report states. “A multidisciplinary approach that promotes emotional and mental wellness is an important component of any community violence prevention model.”

Lina Alathari, chief of the Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, said in a Tuesday briefing of the report to police, public safety and school officials that prevention of these attacks is everyone’s responsibility, not just law enforcement.

“There is not a single solution,” she said, according to the Associated Press. “The more that we’re out there, training, the more we’re out there with the community … the more we share information … I think it will help really alleviate and hopefully prevent even one incident from happening. One is too many.”

The report said that while not every act of violence will be prevented, warning signs can be identified prior to such an incident.

The Secret Service suggests that people concerned about someone else should report suspicious behavior immediately. The report also emphasizes the importance of the relationship between a community and its law enforcement, encouraging officers to connect with locals.

“While law enforcement has a key role to play in the prevention of community violence, intervening with individuals who may pose a risk is not the responsibility of law enforcement alone,” the report states. “Law enforcement personnel are encouraged to continue developing close partnerships with the mental health community, local schools and school districts, houses of worship, social services, and other private and public community organizations.”

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