Dr. Amy Klinger, the director of programs at the Educator’s School Safety Network, an institute that trains educators in security issues, says that the lack of a support network for Lanza is a key takeaway. “The issue that makes Sandy Hook particularly tragic is that when he left high school, all of those supports fell away,” she tells Security Management, citing the fact that Lanza had dropped out of high school at age 16 and began taking college-level classes. “From reading what’s there in the report, it would appear that the isolation became much more severe and some of the behaviors were unaddressed and were accelerated when he wasn’t in school and didn’t have any other contact or support.”
Klinger cites the similarity to the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, in which mental health records of gunman Seung-Hui Cho had notes written by his counselors that cited isolation and lack of relationships. “The support falls away, and the isolation begins, and the behaviors accelerate, and the family becomes very isolated because they don’t know how to handle it,” notes Klinger.
She adds that a possible motivation for Lanza’s actions may have been a desire to strike back at the community as a whole, as has been the case in prior school shootings. “The school is the face of the community, which is a really good thing, but it also unfortunately may draw an attacker, as that’s the place to strike back at the society at large,” she says.
Teachers and students from Sandy Hook would not have been able to see any indications of Lanza’s propensity to violence because he never attended the school. But Paul Timm, PSP, president of RETA Security, notes that generating awareness among students and staff about behavioral warning signs is a lesson from any school shooting.
“Awareness becomes a big deal, and it can never begin in a vacuum, you have to have a collaborative approach,” he says, noting that involvement from multiple aspects of the school body is key. “If we’re going to have a collaborative approach, we’re going to include somebody who might be a social worker or a counselor of some kind. We’re going to include an administrator, maybe we’re going to include a student or two but we’re going to begin to get a much more well-rounded view rather than just a single angle of how security should be improved.”
Lessons learned. School security experts say there are several lessons from Sandy Hook that can help schools train their teachers and students to be better prepared for any type of emergency.