These ‘warning signs,’ if identified in time, can prevent mass shootings: reporters

These ‘warning signs,’ if identified in time, can prevent mass shootings: reporters

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, May 24 — which left 19 children and two teachers dead — has inspired numerous conversations about how such attacks can be prevented in the future. A wide range of suggestions have been made, from stricter gun control measures to easier access to mental health programs. Another suggestion is identifying warning signs to be on the lookout for.

Law enforcement officials in Texas have identified the gunman as 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, who was also killed on May 24. Ramos didn’t appear to have any political motivations, but rather, suffered from mental health issues. And according to Associated Press reporter Amanda Seitz, there were definite “warning signs” on social media that the suspected gunman was mentally unstable. Days before the May 24 attack, Seitz notes, Ramos, left “clues across Instagram.”

“The warning signs were there for anyone to stumble upon, days before the 18-year-old gunman entered a Texas elementary school and slaughtered 19 children and two teachers,” Seitz reports in an article published on May 27. “There was the Instagram photo of a hand holding a gun magazine, a TikTok profile that warned, ‘Kids be scared,’ and the image of two AR-style semi-automatic rifles displayed on a rug, pinned to the top of the killer’s Instagram profile.”

Shooters, Seitz adds, are “leaving digital trails that hint at what’s to come long before they actually pull the trigger.” But those “foreboding posts” on social media, according to Seitz, “are often lost in an endless grid of” posts that “feature semiautomatic rifles, handguns and ammunition.”

Former FBI agent Katherine Schweit told AP, “When somebody starts posting pictures of guns they started purchasing, they’re announcing to the world that they’re changing who they are. It absolutely is a cry for help. It’s a tease: can you catch me?”

Schweit added that when there are numerous social media posts from a potential shooter, the ones with “warning signs” can get lost in the crowd.

Some mass shootings have a political motivation; others don’t. There is no indication that the massacre at Robb Elementary School was politically motivated. But on the other hand, the mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York on May 14 — which left ten people dead — appears to be an act of domestic terrorism. According to law enforcement officials, the suspect in that case held far-right White nationalist views and specifically targeted that area of Buffalo because it was heavily African-American.

Columnist and editor Mark Follman, in an article published by Mother Jones on May 27, also examines the warning signs that can precede a mass shooting, either political or non-political.

“The mass shooter driven by racist hatred in Buffalo, New York cited livestreamed footage and writings posted online from a 2019 massacre as a source of inspiration, detailing his own plan to do the same, ‘to increase coverage and spread my beliefs,’” Follman explains. “Mass shootings can be prevented. In fact, it happens with regularity at the hands of threat assessment teams.”

Follman identifies eight “identifiable warning signs” in his article: (1) entrenched grievances, (2) threatening communications, (3) patterns of aggression, (4) stalking behavior, (5) emulation, (6) personal deterioration, (7) triggering events, and (8) attack preparation.

“Many of these warning signs, we now know, were present and escalating long before Tuesday’s nightmare in Uvalde — as they were before the one in Buffalo, and before that, in the run-up to the massacre at Oxford High School in Michigan,” Follman observes. “This is the true nature of these attacks. And the expanding knowledge of these patterns represents opportunity for threat assessment teams to intervene before it’s too late.”


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