Warning signs

As more details emerge from the Florida school shooting, many people feel outraged. Many signs were missed, and many of them were glaring red flags. All that was needed was for someone, anyone, to put two and two together, and then come up with the answer of four. I will not play Monday morning quarterback by second guessing potential failures of any agency, but I will point out missed signs that could have prevented this tragedy.

Whether you believe CNN delivers fake news or not, many will admit that when it comes to mass shootings, their investigative team is top notch. In fact, it makes an individual wonder what others, even law enforcement, can learn from them. I will be posting many links to CNN and their investigative reports in today’s blog, as well as CBS.

As most of you already know, I refuse to give glory to mass shooters, in order to help prevent another mass shooting. For that reason, this shooter will only be referred to as “Florida (FL) Shooter” or “the eventual shooter”.

Troubled childhood

CNN reported that a neighbor saw a troubling signs from the FL shooter, even at a young age. From the age of nine years old, she saw the FL shooter had a dark side. That dark side included killing animals for fun, hitting other children for no reason, and much more. According to friends and neighbors, as the boy grew, so did his dark side.

At a party the neighbor once had, the Florida shooter (still a young boy at the age of 10 or so) spilled a drink on his lap. When the other children teased him by saying it looked like he wet his pants, the boy locked himself in the neighbors bedroom, and destroyed a train set. He was easily provoked into violent behavior, even at that young age.

Also at 10 years old, the eventual shooter threw a rock at the neighbors son, and hit him in the eye, on purpose. She described how the FL shooter had so much rage, that his bedroom walls were filled with holes from his violent outbursts, and this was confirmed by other neighbors as well. As a middle school student, the FL shooter made weapons and killed toads, then pulled them apart or dissected them. He also used his BB gun and other weapons to kill small animals. While this in itself is somewhat normal for young boys, this eventual shooter was took it to the extreme, killing multiple animals in one day and gloating about it.

This same neighbor described how when her dog had a seizure, he stood over the dog that was violently twitching and foaming at the mouth, and watched with excitement. It was obvious that he was enjoying being able to watch this animal suffer, but his demeanor changed when he realized he (himself) was being watched.

As the boy grew older, multiple neighbors recalled seeing the police called, usually for conflicts with his mother.  There were reports of hitting doors with pool equipment, multiple violent outbursts, punching walls, and throwing objects. One neighbor stated she would see the police holding the eventual shooter in the back of a squad car, while they investigated. Both the shooter and his mother would always blame others for the troubles he had. Of course, all of these signs are red flags.

In 2016, the neighbor notified police about the shooters Instagram account. He was posting pictures if an AR-15, stating that he couldn’t wait to be old enough to purchase the weapon. He also posted (around that same time) that he “wanted to shoot up the school”.  He soon began to post and disturbing pictures of himself in tactical gear, holding multiple guns, or even holding menacing knives.

The two years prior to the mass shooting

Multiple warning signs were present in the two years before the mass shooting. CNN reported multiple signs were seen, but not acted on. On February 5th of 2016, the police were told that the eventual shooter planned to commit a school shooting. After an investigation by police, it was determined that the eventual shooter only had knives and BB guns, so he was not recognized as a threat, even though he made specific threats.

Over the period of a year, the FL shooter gathered a collection of firearms. From what information is available, it appears that all seven of the firearms he collected in a year were rifles.

In September of 2017, the eventual shooter would tell a video web-blogger that he was going to be a professional school shooter. The incident was reported, but no action was taken. Also in September,  according to CBS news the Department of Child and Family services visited the shooter and his mother. The mother was suspected of medical neglect, because the FL shooter had depression, ADHD, was a self-cutter, and he reportedly had autism.  They started the investigation because of a report that he was not being taken to a doctor or psychologist for treatment of these ailments. These are more red flags that were missed.

In November of 2017, shortly after his mothers death, a relative reported that the eventual shooter had rifles, and that she felt he was unstable. A friend of the eventual shooter agreed to take the rifles, and to keep them safe for the eventual shooter. Later in November of 2017, someone that the eventual shooter lived with, reported that they had a no gun policy in their house, and they believed that the shooter had hidden a gun (or guns) in their back yard.  No weapons were found by law enforcement. Just four days after the previous incident, police were notified about a fight between the eventual shooter and the son of the people he lived with. In that confrontation, the FL shooter threatened to shoot the son. When they arrived, the mother reported that the FL shooter had bought a gun and “tons of ammo”. She also reported that the FL shooter had put a gun to someones head in the past. These reports, once again, reveals an abnormal fascination with guns.

Just a few days after the last report, still in November of 2017, the FL shooter was forced to move from where he lived, to another house (presumably because the other family worried about their, and their sons, safety). Again, a different person called authorities about the eventual shooter. The caller warned that the FL shooter was collecting guns and knives, and that he had made threats about killing himself, which is a serious warning sign. In that same phone call, the caller also suggested that they felt he could become a “school shooter”. If someone makes these comments about another, it becomes a red flag; especially when they felt he had the ability to become a school shooter.

In January of 2018, another caller talked with authorities. The said that they felt compelled to call because the FL shooter had been portraying erratic behavior, as well as disturbing social media posts, that he had purchased multiple guns, and that he had expressed a credible desire to kill people. Again, these are serious warning signs.

One of the few friends of the eventual shooter stated that FL shooter had a dark humor. While the friend had not seen the shooter in a few months, he stated that regular topics they would talk about included guns, ISIS, shooting up the school, and other similar disturbing discussions. The friend shared nothing with anyone, even though there were warning signs.


These multiple warning signs are just from one incident. Ironically, many of these signs are present in almost every other active/mass shooting incident, long before the shooter acts. As a warning, these signs should always be reported, and if they are not taken seriously, then make more phone calls. Don’t miss the signs, and don’t expect someone else to call!, … Mark

Florida School Shooting

I have refrained from publishing on the Florida school shooting until today. The reason; I didn’t want to be part of the problem by feeding the frenzy. Truth be told, I came close to predicting a mass shooting incident last week in this blog, but ultimately decided not to (after talking to my wife), because we thought it might seem as if I had inside information. Mark my words, another is coming in the next two to three weeks.

To be honest, I don’t know if I have become accustomed to the timeline of when a mass shooting will happen, or if the Holy Spirit prompts me that one will happen, or some combination of both. No matter what the reason, I had a feeling at least 18 hours in advance of the actual incident, and that disturbs me.

When I began listening to the news stories, I become angry: As Ephesians 4 tells us, as a Christian, I can be angry providing I did not sin in the process. I honestly don’t know if I sinned or not, but I pray I didn’t. My anger was directed at the shooter for committing this horrible mass killing, and it was directed at the FBI as well as local law enforcement for missing the glaring signs.

In all, the FBI has missed the signs or failed to act numerous times. We only need to look at the graphic below to see some of the mass killers that they have missed in recent years.

Not only did the FBI miss the warning signs, but so did local law enforcement. Reports from many different media sources state that local law enforcement was called to the shooters home at least 10 times, with some reporting as many as 20 times over the last few years. They had contact, why didn’t they see the warning signs?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to play Monday morning quarterback. What I am most angry about is that information is not shared, profiles of mass shooters are not disseminated, and many (including law enforcement) are not trained in what they should look for. There needs to be a basic awareness of what characteristics need to be identified, and more specifically scrutinized to determine the risk that an individual may pose. At least if they knew what they were looking for, they could request a 72-hour mental health evaluation, and potentially identify the threat they pose before an incident.

In the last few days, I have been swamped with work on mass shooters. One of the projects I have been working on is an online class to help law enforcement see the signs and to intervene before an incident ever happens. While looking for data, research, and videos for my students to watch, I came across a VERY interesting video. It was a TedX video presented by  Bernice Pescosolido in Bloomington Indiana. Please watch this video, it may help you prevent the next mass killer!

As I go back to Ephesians 4, I looked at what I was truly angry about. I was angry because many people knew what the warning signs were, and they either didn’t share them and/or they didn’t share that this shooter had those warning signs. I was angry because we are not educating people on what to look for. When they do know what to look for, and they report it, it can be mishandled by those that are supposed to protect us. There is a total breakdown in the system.

I am doing my part to prevent this from happening in the future, but I also encourage you to do the same. I encourage you to read the blog posted on November 18th. At the end of that blog, I posted a list of warning signs. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, share this information so we can save lives together. If we save these lives now, we may be able to save someones soul later. Until next time, … Mark

Active Shooting Psychology

It seems that the incidents of active shooters are becoming more common.  After each tragic occurrence, people ask themselves and each other what motivates the perpetrators to go on a rampage killing.  They might also consider what they need to do or how they will cope with the distress of such traumatic events.  The American Psychological Association (APA) describes the multitude of feelings that may overwhelm people, including sorrow, numbness, shock, anger, fear disillusionment, grief and yet more (APA, 2017).  After a time, difficulties experienced in engaging in our basic drives (sleeping, eating, for example) start to settle, and thoughts begin to regain their former clarity.  No sooner has the initial grief started to wane somewhat, but disaster strikes again, and the cycle repeats itself.  The APA advocates for resilience strengthening, that is, to be able to adapt in the face of adversity.  This is sound advice; and anyone can visit their website to read their tips on distress management (http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/gun-violence-report.pdf).  It is important to seek out a professional therapist if you need help, sooner is better than later.

However, something else can be done: it is possible, to not only be reactive and help each other better cope with the aftermath of mass shooting trauma, but to be proactive and be more guarded as an individual, or as a group, specifically in our different places of worship.  Places such as churches, schools, and hospitals once thought to be community sanctuaries have had to formulate safety plans and undertake emergency trainings to proactively strengthen their resilience (Palestis, 2016). Taking a proactive stance does not mean making the congregation in constant fear; if done correctly, it is a reassurance that others are looking out for them.

It is very difficult to understand the different reasons that may trigger active shooter behavior; and sometimes these may be inaccurately described in the literature.  For example, according to Dutton, White and Fogarty (2013) diaries and web sites inspected from a subset of mass shooters contradicts the commonly-held belief of their psychopathic nature or reacting because of rage from being bullied.  Third-party peers described these individuals as over-exaggerating the negativity of their treatment (Dutton et al., 2013).   The APA state that many possible risk factors may be precursors to the use of a firearm on other people; it is not possible to create a profile of who is likely to commit gun violence, and it is unfair, and stigmatizes the mentally ill to say most active or mass shooters are mentally ill.  The APA (2017) says that the most consistent factor seems to be a history of violence.  Unless the behavior attached to the violent history has been observed, it is not easy to identify such an individual.  It is possible to be prepared in advance and follow recommendation to stay as safe as possible in highly traumatic situations.

There may never be satisfactory answers to what triggers active shooter behavior; preparing ourselves to lessen impact on us, to be safer in such situations, is something that can be proactively sought, specifically in places like churches, schools, and so forth.  Consider reaching out and building yourself up with resilience training as an individual and specifically as a group for your establishment.

Cleo Warnick

(Master’s Degree Learner, Clinical Psychology)



APA. (2017). APA Resources for Coping with Mass Shootings, Understanding Gun Violence. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/10/mass-shootings.aspx

Dutton, D. G., White, K. R., & Fogarty, D. (2013). Paranoid thinking in mass shooters. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 18(5), 548-553. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2013.07.012

Palestis, K. (2016). Active shooters: What emergency nurses need to know. Journal of Forensic Nursing, 12(2), 74.