Creating a culture

Let me start off by stating that according to the statistics, there should not be a mass shooting this week, but there is a strong possibility that one will occur next week or early in the following week. I literally hate predicting these shootings, but I feel it is more important to hate it and possibly save lives, than it is to ignore it and let people not be prepared. Now on to this weeks information!

I sometimes feel like some of my readers think that my blog is a broken record. I imagine some of them read “Blah, blah, blah, blah!”. To be honest, I do repeat many of the same themes over and over again, but I do this because so many people hear the information but it do  not out it into actions. Much like the broken record of the past, I am going to be discussing two themes that I have shared in previous blogs; “See something-Say something” and the detrimental effects that media can have on mass shootings. Instead of these being (only) my words , I am going to provide hyperlinks so that you can see with your own eyes what I am talking about.

In looking at the “See something-Say something” realm of mass shootings, many people fail to recognize the importance of saying something.  Too many times, something doesn’t seem quite right about someone, and nothing is said. Inaction in this area can lead to death and destruction! We need to make a concerted effort to report anything that does not seem kosher with the way someone is acting.

A good friend of mine, who is also a law enforcement officer in Tennessee, has a funny name for these individuals. He calls them “squirrels”. My friend Jeremy can spot a squirrel quicker than most, and he takes the appropriate actions. Even when he is acting as a law enforcement officer, he lets others in law enforcement know that he has a suspicion that one individual may become a mass shooter. This leads me to ask the question that if law enforcement shares this information when they know it, why shouldn’t we?

To show you how effective this can be, I would like to direct you to a story about two teens that stopped a school shooting.  As you might guess, I have multiple news feeds that keep me informed about mass shootings. Please read this story so you can see how the “See something-say something” campaign can prevent mass shootings.

The second issue I want to talk about is the “Contagion Effect for Mass Shooters”. I was working on a research project this past week, when I ran across a video. This video discusses the role that the media plays in mass shooters. The interview is with the researcher that undertook this research project. Please view this 24-minute long video, and become more educated on the Contagion Effect of Mass Shooters.

Until next week; humbly yours, … Mark

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.

Conclusion

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)

 

References

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.

 

Appropriate Response

Every time there is a mass shooting you can count on a series of events.

First the Media will report on it endlessly.  I certainly don’t mean to imply such a horrific event isn’t newsworthy, but the news cycle of the 24/7 cable news means that every 45 minutes they repeat everything they’ve been saying for the last 45 minutes.  The result is a constant drum beat that as Mark pointed out (See The media and mass shootings) tends to excite further violence.

Second, and quite positively, as people become aware of the danger of their situation they start looking for answers.

The Dallas area NBC affiliate reported in an article titled Praying for Protection While Packing a Weapon: Thousands to Attend Security Conference in Plano.  That  Prestonwood Baptist church in Plano Texas will be hosting a security conference.

Thousands of miles away the Maryland Sheriff’s department, about 60 miles north of Washington was teaching the same principle Mark covered in Your role if a shooter or bomber gets in.  Namely, use the hymnal or Bible in your hand and hurl it at the assailant.   (See: ‘Smack them with a hymnal’ ).

I think this illustrates that there are two responses we can have to the prospect of a mass shooting in our church.  The first, like the media which constantly seeks sensationalism, is to incite fear.  Fear is not a godly response, neither is it a necessary response.  Instead of being afraid, seek to be prepared.

Preparation is the second, and I think far wiser response.  Take the time to assess what you would do today in the event of a mad man coming into your church.  What would you do?  What would your pastor do? What can you do?  Make a plan, get some training: and be prepared.

But don’t be afraid.

Need some guidance? Contact us.

Missed signs may have caused deaths

For a little over a week now, I have been telling you about signs that should send up red flags. Unfortunately, these signs were missed in the two most recent shootings, and missed horribly. Had something been done, such as a court ordered psych evaluation, there is a good possibility that many people would still be here on earth rather than souls in heaven.

I thought today would be a good day to give you some things to ponder. First, both the Texas shooter and the California shooter should not have been able to purchase firearms. To be honest, they probably would have found another way of causing death and destruction, but still, this needs to be pointed out. The warning signs that were there for these two shooter still should have been HUGE red flags to everyone around them and to law enforcement!

Let’s start with the Texas shooter. According to a story by Meghan Keneally and Luis Martinez of ABC News (2017), the shooter had multiple signs that he was a prime candidate to become an active shooter. The first outward sign happened when he chocked, kicked, and slapped his wife in 2011. Just three days later, he hit his 1-1/2 year old stepson in the head, fracturing his skull. In 2012 he escaped from a mental health facility and was trying to take a bus out of town. The report of his escape said that he was a danger to himself and others. He had already been caught sneaking firearms onto his Air Force Base, and he made death threats to his military chain of command. He was confined for 9-1/2 months of a 12 month sentence, released early for good behavior. In 2013, he was accused of sexual assault. In 2014, he was cited for cruelty to animals for closed fist punching a dog repeatedly.  Just 5 days before his rampage, he and his children attended the fall festival at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. While this last information is not a warning sign, I can’t help but wonder if he was scoping out the church for what he would do five days later.

In the California shooting, similar signs were missed or ignored according to a story by the Associated Press (AP [2017]). He was out on $160,000 bail after an alleged assault, stabbing his neighbor with a knife. He was supposed to surrender all of his firearms in January.  Multiple neighbors complained that he was firing hundreds of rounds of ammunition over the last few weeks. In an interview

that reporter Jim Shultz , a court reporter for Shasta County reveals many signs I have warned about. Neighbors said they could hear the (eventual) shooter come unhinged on a regular basis. According to the AP story, both the mother and the sister of this man said he had “mental issues. The story went on to say that the shooter was marijuana grower, and he had a long-standing dispute with a neighbor he believed was making meth. According to the AP story, just prior to the incident, he called her and told her that the people in the town were trying to execute him (paranoia) . She admitted that she knew he was mentally unstable, and so did his sister.

When we look at these warning signs, we see that both of these shooters portrayed them. Do you have someone in your community portraying these signs? If so, you should not ignore them! I have taken the proactive stance of adding the full list of warning signs at the bottom of this post. Feel free to share them and print them for yourself. Hang them by your desk, or somewhere that will be seen by you on a regular basis. As always, I encourage to be proactive rather than reactive, … Mark

References

Associated Press (November 15, 2017). Warning Signs: California shooter Kevin Neal was out on bail, worried neighbors, fired hundreds of practice rounds. Retrieved from: http://torontosun.com/news/world/warning-signs-california-shooter-kevin-neal-was-out-on-bail-worried-neighbours-fired-hundreds-of-practice-rounds

Connor, T., & Arkin, D. (November 6, 2017). Texas Gunman Devin Kelley escaped from mental health facility in 2012. Retrieved from: https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/texas-church-shooting/texas-gunman-devin-kelley-escaped-mental-health-facility-2012-n818496

Schultz, J. (November 15, 2017). Rancho Tehama man talks about incident

. Retrieved from: https://twitter.com/JimSchultz_RS/status/930500370073206784

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FEEL FREE TO PRINT, SHARE, AND/OR POST THIS QUICK GUIDE

Active Shooter Common Characteristics

According to the FBI, active shooters are typically male (94%), with the youngest recorded age being 13 years old and the oldest being 88 years old. The vast majority (87%) are under the age of 40. Common themes of past active shooters include:

  • May lack social skills
  • May have been a victim of teasing/bullying
  • May have conflicts with coworkers
  • May suffer from depression
  • May reveal aggressive or explosive behavior
  • May violate safety guidelines
  • May not accept responsibility
  • May be paranoid
  • May have an interest in guns/weapons
  • May not take criticism well
  • May blame others
  • Might threaten people
  • May suffer emotional outbursts

Signs that Should Indicate an Increased Awareness

Past active shooters had common attributes. For these attributes to be included in this list, it had to be present in at least 25% of the active shooters life history. While these signs may not indicate they will become an active shooter, they should cause individuals that may become victims to have a raised awareness. If two or more are present, you may want to notify the police.

  • Hostility or conflicts at work or home
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems
  • Domestic problems
  • Currently using drugs or alcohol
  • Poor ob performance evaluation
  • History of violence against others
  • History of being abused or neglected
  • Disciplinary action or job termination
  • Involuntary job changes–different roles, responsibilities or work groups
  • May exhibit recent signs of mental illness with outbursts

Red Flags that MIGHT Require Intervention

Just prior to active shooting incidents, most perpetrators displayed common signs which may indicate the potential to act on an impulse to become an active shooter. Not everyone that displays one or more of these signs will definitely become and active shooter, but it should be a sign that intervention should at the very least be considered. For items in bold lettering, action should be taken immediately:

  •  Extremely high level of distress
  • Threats of homicide or suicide
  • Fantasies of homicide or suicide
  • Weapons: Use, threat of use, or recent impulse purchase 
  • Obsessiveness
  • Substance/Alcohol abuse
  •  Pet /Animal abuse

Should I call law enforcement or not?

Earlier this week, another gunman shot 10 people in northern California. In listening to an interview of a young man, many of the signs I have been writing about were present in this shooter. The young man interviewed said that the man who shot up this town (including children) often made threats, and he had a fascination with guns. He was firing hundreds of rounds over the last week or so. I am willing to guess that as more information comes out, it will somewhat look like the lists I have been providing you with.

On Wednesday (11/9/2017) and Monday (11/13/2017), I discussed various signs that could indicate that someone may become an active shooter. What I failed to mention, if you see two or more of the signs mentioned, it may be time to call the police and at least report your concerns. Most law enforcement agencies will take this warning, and view the person as someone that they will need to evaluate, or question. If they find cause for concern, like you did, they may ask a judge to put the individual on a psychiatric hold. Under the law, the only way this can be done is under a court order, and only if the judge believes they may be a danger to themselves or others. I will be releasing the list next week in its entirety, so you can print it, and hang it in your office.

While the other signs can be the build-up, the signs I am going to reveal today should be considered serious signs that should warrant contacting law enforcement right away. They inclide;

  • Threats of weapons use
  • Fascination or experimenting with explosives
  • Fascination or experimenting with guns
  • Threats of homicide or suicide
  • Fantasies of homicide or suicide
  • Animal abuse (especially their own pets)

If you, or anyone that knows the person, see’s these signs, law enforcement should immediately be contacted. There is no time to wait, these individuals are ticking time bombs that is ready to explode! If these individuals threaten to use weapons on you or someone else, they may have the inability to completely control their temper, and some day they may act rather than talk.

Looking at explosives, if they are experimenting with explosives, it shows a willingness to not only learn about them, but they also are in the habit of taking risks. I think it goes without saying that if you, or a neighbor of theirs hears regular explosions, it may be time for law enforcement intervention. This holds especially true if these explosions get bigger and bigger.

When we talk about the fascination of guns, we do not mean the gun collector, or the person that wants a certain caliber of gun; we are talking about the person that drools over guns. They may make regular visits to gun stores to sit and drool over them. They may ask to see them, and they may even ask odd questions like “How big of a hole will this gun make?” They may begin dangerous play with loaded guns. They may try twirling a gun like a wild west gunman. They may fire hundreds of rounds in a brief period of time, and they may even try shooting while advancing on a target. This may be the build-up for what they want to do. This is something that local law enforcement should be warned about, so at a minimum they can have this person on their radar.

While I think it goes without saying, if someone says that they are suicidal or homicidal, or if they fantasize or talk about being homicidal or suicidal, you should call the authorities immediately! While I am a firm believer in the power of prayer, we can also pray for them while they are being mentally evaluated. While I am a firm believer in Christian counselling, I do not believe this is the time to take chances. You should never risk the person’s life, or others’ lives; I strongly urge you to call the authorities, and let them handle it through the system. If law enforcement find that the person is unstable, and that they have firearms or explosives, they may be able to stop a mass shooting or bombing.

It should also go without saying, if the person is abusing or torturing animals. Whenever they get to this extreme, it shows that they lack empathy. With a lack of empathy, in most instances, they could torture or kill a human as easily as they do the same to an animal. To be honest, just the thought of torturing or abusing an animal makes me cringe, and it should make you cringe too.

I reiterate my earlier statement, if you see any of these signs, it is not time to think about it; it is time to involve law enforcement. As always, stay safe and keep God’s children safe, … Mark

Behavioral Profiling gives an Advantage

Pretty much anyone that watches television has heard of behavioral profiling. Some call this offender profiling. Behavioral profiling in this context, is the task of observing, interpreting, and anticipating what someone is going to do, based on their behavior. A simple example that describes behavioral profiling, as a child, I knew if I saw my great grandfather sitting in a chair, and he leaned hard to one side, there was a good possibility that he was going to break wind. Albeit this example is a bit crass, it shows that we knew what was coming from his behavior, and we took evasive action (it’s OK to laugh).

By the same token, there are ways to pre-identify potential shooters and bombers. While they are not 100% accurate, they can give us advanced warning for the times that they do hold true. Some examples of behavioral profiling What we don’t see can sometimes have as much as an impact on us as what we do see. We will watch for the actions of the person.

When we understand the behaviors of those that want to do harm, we can intervene. That intervention might be excluding them from the church or church function, and to notify law enforcement.  Actions we can take prior to law enforcement’s arrival may be to lock them out of the church, to isolate them from other congregants, or in extreme cases, have one or more persons keep them busy while awaiting the arrival of law enforcement. It is important to note that we want to be fairly certain that they are a potential perpetrator before taking any action, as this could be detrimental to the mission of spreading the Word of God

Some specific psychological behaviors can also tell us that the individual may have bad intentions. They may have no facial expression, or they don’t smile or laugh when most people would. These are all behaviors that can be linked to a “fear of discovery” by criminals or terrorists. Other signs that a perpetrator cannot control include:

  • Nervousness
  • Unusual sweating
  • Twitching
  • Fidgeting
  • No facial expressions or inconsistent facial expressions

We can sometimes identify the physical behaviors of those carrying a firearm or that might be a suicide bomber. In most instances suicide bombers or those carrying firearms have certain looks and mannerisms. One, or more, people with a keen eye can in many instances spot these individuals in the parking lot or as they enter your church.

Signs that someone may be wearing a suicide vest include someone wearing clothing that is uncommon for the season like a large jacket on a warm day, or they may be wearing a coat, suit jacket or windbreaker that appears to be too large in comparison to their face and legs. This is a behavior that is uncommon.  They may be walking uncharacteristically gentle, or in a robotic manner, or they may be acting nervous. They may have controlled or shallow breathing, and in most instances they will not look anyone in the eye. In most instances they will stare straight ahead, sometimes as if they are looking right through you. In cases of radical terrorists, you may see light skin on their face where they recently shaved a beard, or they may be mumbling prayers  They may keep one or both hand inside their pocket, or in the case of a backpack or bag bomb, they will be especially careful not to bump it, or they may keep a hand on the bag or backpack at all times. There may be wires  that can be seen going from the backpack or back into their clothes. In many instances they will keep their hand in their pocket or the bag, so they can keep their hand on the detonator. While the vast majority of suicide bombers are male, it should be noted that there are female suicide bombers too. Trained church personnel may be able to identify these individuals and isolate them from others. Similarly, someone carrying firearms can also provide hints that they are armed.

Those carrying firearms can hide them in a variety of ways; someone carrying a handgun may carry them in a holster on their belt , on their ankle, or in a shoulder holster. They may carry them in a jacket or pants pocket, in a boot , or they may carry it in the waistband of their pants . If they have a long-gun such as a rifle or shotgun, they may wear long clothing to help conceal it. No matter where they carry it, if you are observant, you can tell that something is not quite right. Those carrying a firearm will regularly touch or adjust their firearm . This includes only pulling up one side of their pants , or putting their hand on the weapon or in their pocket when they stand up or climb stairs. They may look down at the area where the weapon is to make sure it is not seen. If they have the firearm on their leg, many times the seam of their pants will not be centered and they may regularly shake one pant leg or adjust the seam with their hands. They may turn away from people on the side that has the firearm to adjust their clothing. The may walk in a way that is not normal, favoring one side over another and on the side with the firearm, their arm or leg may be stiffer or more mechanical  The may have a bulge in their pocket or they may have pocket sag on one side. Pocket sag is easy to notice as a jacket or pants seem crooked from the weight of the firearm. They may hold one side of their jacket to make sure it doesn’t open or be pulling their clothing down over the area where the firearm is to make sure it is concealed . Whether a long-gun or a handgun, you may see bulges in the clothing and with long-guns, they may wear a long jacket and/or walk hunched over because they are trying to conceal it. Just like the explosive devices, they may also wear larger clothes or coats when it is warm.

We need to remember situational awareness is the key to preventing and surviving evil in our church. By being more aware of their behaviors, we can make a positive step to doing that!

Signs that Should Indicate an Increased Awareness

All to often, we hear about what an active shooter was doing before they committed their crime. Houses of worship often see these signs, but yet they are oblivious to them. It’s time to quit missing these signs, and start paying more attention to what is going on in their lives. Sometimes domestic problems spill over into the sanctuary, and even if the congregation is not shot up, at least one person dies. I remember several over the years about instances where a husband and wife were splitting up, or having marital difficulties, and it turned into a church shooting. In one instances,I can remember the wife went to church, and the husband showed up at church and shot their spouse. In most instances, the shooter commits suicide, but not always. The only reason I am mentioning this is so you have a reminder that it is not always about the entire congregation. Sometimes it is about a domestic issue at home, and it spills over into the church.

As I did on Thursday, I am sharing some more information from handouts that I provide when I teach Surviving and Preventing Active Shooters and Bombers in Houses of Worship. For the safety of yourself and all those in your house of worship, PLEASE think about these signs and think about anyone that might be having these issues.


Signs that should Indicate an Increased Awareness

Past active shooters had common attributes. For these attributes to be included in this list, it had to be present in at least 25% of the active shooters life history. While these signs may not indicate they will become an active shooter, they should cause individuals that may become victims to have a raised awareness.

  • Hostility or conflicts at work or home
  • Financial difficulties
  • Legal problems
  • Domestic problems
  • Currently using drugs or alcohol
  • Poor job performance evaluation
  • History of violence against others
  • History of being abused or neglected
  • Disciplinary action or job termination
  • Involuntary job changes – different roles, responsibilities or work groups
  • May exhibit recent signs of mental illness with outbursts

These are similar to the first list that I published, but still a little different. If there are indications on the first list and the second list, then you should have substantial heightened awareness around these individuals.

Later in the week, I will release a blog that will tell you how to identify when the police should be called before the potential active shooter can ever harm someone in your church. Be on the watch for that blog post, … Mark