NORMAL — Most severe acts of school violence are not impulsive, random or even planned in secret, so officials need to learn how to reach people who know of such threats, an expert in the field said Thursday.
Ron Ellis, the director of school and campus security training programs for the Illinois Terrorism Task Force, spoke to about 50 law enforcement and school officials Thursday at Heartland Community College in Normal.
“Research has shown that 81 percent of the time, someone else knew that an individual was planning mass violence and yet they often don’t come forward for a variety of reasons,” he said. “Part of that may be the climate within the school where it’s not cool to report something like that.
“Others may feel that their friend may be punished as a result. Some don’t want to get involved and others may just be in denial and think that the person is just venting.”
Officials from both Bloomington District 87 and Normal-based McLean County Unit 5 attended at the meeting along with several law enforcement officials from Central Illinois.
“The goal of the training is to support strategies for improving planning, preparedness and violence prevention capacity in schools,” said Trooper Dustin Pierce of the Illinois State Police. “The training enhances understanding and ability to identify persons exhibiting threatening behaviors.”
Mark Jontry, regional superintendent of schools for DeWitt, Livingston and McLean counties, said he believes the daylong session was valuable for school officials.
“Today’s workshop was designed to give teachers and administrators information on building a multidisciplinary team and give them the skills to identify potential threats among the student population,” he said.
Ellis said teachers are on the front line and can often spot behaviors that might suggest a particular student is considering violence.
“There are two classes which are better for detecting erratic behavior prior to an event … English and art,” he said. “Often times, students will mention homicide or suicide in essays, or talk about mass violence or previous mass violence incidents. It’s the same thing with art classes. Through art, they may tip off some irrational behavior.”
Ellis said any serious threat should be investigated and the student’s past history and behavior should be taken into consideration.
“Look for signs of major changes in the student’s behavior and make sure the student gets some counseling,” he said. “School and mental health officials should work together to assess the situation.”