Learning a proactive approach to prevent school tragedy

By Audrey Williams

April 4, 2013 Updated Apr 4, 2013 at 8:01 PM CDT

NORMAL, Ill -- School shootings and gun control have gripped the nation's attention in the last few months. While many say the answer lies in safety, local law enforcement and school administrators are hoping to prevent tragedies by learning about student behavior.

"These are not sudden and impulsive incidents. These have been pressures that have been built up in these particular individuals," said Ron Ellis, the director of School and Campus Security Training with the Illinois Terrorism Task Force.

Ellis said the shooters at Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and NIU all exhibited similar behaviors, "Fixation on extreme violence, having access or extreme interest in weapons."

Thursday morning Ellis taught law enforcement and school administrators, mostly from McLean County, how to look for potential issues students are having before there is a tragedy.

Mark Jontry, the Regional Superintendent of Schools, also attended the training. He said, "To take pieces of information that may not seem to be connected at the outset, but if you put the puzzle together, if you will, then it presents a clearer picture and allows us to take appropriate action to allow us to intervene."

School administrators expect to take their knowledge of what to look for, back to teachers, who are often on the front lines of reporting these issues.

"Some early warning signs which are often exhibited in English writing, poems, papers at school and in art where kids tend to express themselves," said Ellis.

A shooting incident at Normal Community High School last September hits home the significance of training like this.

"That is what is making this so important for everybody is to get in here so that we can identify these problems well before we have an incident," said Illinois State Police Trooper Dustin Pierce.

Pierce said keeping students safe on all campuses will take a group effort from parents and teachers, to school administrators and law enforcement.

"Everybody has response plans in place, but we want plans in place too so that we don't have to use those response plans to create a safe learning environment for the students," said Trooper Pierce.

To submit a comment on this article, your email address is required. We respect your privacy and your email will not be visible to others nor will it be added to any email lists.