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

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.


Should guns be in the church?

So, … do you think you are protected because you have people who conceal carry firearms in your church? Well think again! I have heard many concealed carry permit holders state that they will stop a shooter in a church. Looking at a large amount of research, I believe those comments are seriously debatable. I am not saying that it couldn’t happen, just that it is unlikely without specialized training.

I have researched this area probably more extensively than 99% of individuals in this business. There has been multiple studies that contradict what many individuals that carry in church say. In fact, many studies found that the only 15%-25% of soldiers in the United States Military will take a life, unless of course they are conditioned to do so. This includes those that were face to face with a gun . The same happens with Law Enforcement unless they are conditioned. What does that conditioning involve? It involves mentally preparing through training, whether psychological training or physical training. No, I am not talking about target practice, I am talking about tactical training. If the defender is not tactically trained, they could easily freeze. I reviewed the following You Tube video’s. Let me warn you, I do not like the name of these two YouTube videos (Video 1, Video 2) because it lumps all concealed carry holders into one category, and the title is somewhat offensive to those that agree with the 2nd Amendment. Still, I think the outcomes are close to as realistic  for people who do not tactically train and get themselves mentally ready to take someones life (if needed).

I also revert to several studies that were presented in books. Multiple studies were discussed by 2nd Amendment supporter, Lt Colonel Dave Grossman and Dr. Michael Asken (as well as others) in the book Warrior Mindset: Mental Toughness Skills for Peacekeepers. Another book in which Grossman supports having the proper mindset and training would be On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society

If you are planning on defending your church, especially with a firearm, these books should be a mandatory read! It should also be noted that Grossman, along with Carl Chin and Jimmy Meeks (former police officer and current pastor) provide excellent seminars on church safety, albeit slightly different than my seminars. Grossman (a former Army Ranger)has also trained law enforcement and soldiers. One thing that I learned in reading these books are what would usually cause an active shooter to pause,. One such concept is to take a side-step. Believe it or not, this disrupts the shooters vision and forces them have to reset their mind (and eyesight). This side-step buys you 1.6 seconds to take action. These books are filled with tips like this!

So, we get to the ultimate question; should there be guns in church? I do not advocate for, or against, guns in church. I will say that if guns are allowed in church, it is preferred that they should be carried by individuals that have tactical training and the mental preparedness/capacity to take a life if necessary. In most instances, veterans, law enforcement, and some fire and EMS people have had tactical training. Even if your concealed carry person hasn’t been in one of these fields, they can receive the training, and they can read books on mentally preparing.

Finally, let me close with my belief that some people should never carry in church. I read a story last week about the 81 year old man that was showing he was ready for an active shooter at a church function in Tellico Plains TN, who accidentally shot his wife and himself. The age doesn’t matter as much as the ability to safely handle a firearm. If you have someone in your church that carries in church, and you have a legitimate reason that they should not be carrying in church, then perhaps you should talk to church leaders  before someone gets hurt or killed. The wrong person with a gun could add to the death toll if an active shooter comes in. Thanks, … Mark