The rise in school shooting threats is alarming — and a cry for help

“I hate Ms. [school principal]. … On Friday, October 29, I am going to take my dad’s shotgun and shoot her … after that I will go into my first period class and shoot it up. … I know the lockdown protocols, don’t even bother hiding. At the beginning of 6th period, I will pull a Glock 17 out of my backpack and unleash hellfire on the lunchroom.” — a threat made against Central High School in St. Joseph, Mo. that circulated last week on Snapchat


Before a mass shooting, communication of intent to do harm is common, and about half of all mass shooters do so. The professionals who evaluate what is known as “leakage” try to separate the signal from the noise, the real threat from the hoax. They look for red flags such as mentions of a specific date and time, weapon, location and targets, and motive for the attack. The threat against Central High was taken seriously. But there was a highly confusing and complicating factor. Different versions of the threat were being made at about the same time against more than 30 schools in more than a dozen states — including California, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. It seemed unlikely that multiple, simultaneous attacks were about to take place. School leaders found themselves asking: Is it better to overreact than not react at all? This is the impossible situation they are facing with increasing regularity. Closing schools for a hoax unnecessarily spreads fear and curtails valuable instructional time. Not closing risks the deadly consequences of ignoring the warning signs of danger, which law enforcement has done all too frequently in the past. Out of an abundance of caution, some schools did close. Many ramped up police patrols. Parents also chose to keep their children home. Weighing how to respond to threats is getting harder because threats of violence are rising at the same time schools are dealing with an unprecedented number of shootings — 205 so far this year. In September, a record 151 school shooting threats were made, up from a three-year average of 29 for the month. This means a staggering 63% of all shooting threats made at the start of the school year since 2018 were made this year. Half of those threats came via social media and 28% were made by someone who had access to a gun. These statistics come from the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database, conducted in partnership with the Violence Project mass shooting research center. Since 2018, reported shooting threats to U.S. schools have been tallied — 41 occurred in September 2018 and 35 the following September. In September 2020, when many schools were closed or socially distanced, 11 threats were reported. Full article available: