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IMMINENT WARNING: MULTIPLE ONLINE THREATS AND RISK OF COPYCATS IN NORTH TEXAS SCHOOL DISTRICTS

May 11, 2023

Martina Sclaverano, Christine Saddy, Iris Hautaniemi Forsberg, Lydia Baccino, Gabriel Helupka, Utsav Yadav, Arnold R. Koka, Sonia Savci, Benedetta Bisaccia, Megan McCluskey, Julia Tsarnas, Agathe Labadi

Álvaro Picón, Cameron Munoz, Editors; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor


MULTIPLE ONLINE THREATS OF SCHOOL SHOOTINGS AND BOMBINGS SPARK RISK OF COPYCAT ATTACKS AND WIDESPREAD PANIC IN NORTH TEXAS


Map of Four School Districts in North Texas[1]


Event: Multiple online threats this week, including shootings and bombings, circulated on social media platforms like Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter. The targeted school districts in Texas include Plainview Independent School District (ISD), Olton ISD, Lockney ISD, and Littlefield ISD. Local law enforcement took precautionary measures, increasing patrols near schools and monitoring social media, while schools took additional precautions initiating “lockouts” to bar any visitors except for parents and guardians. Schools nationwide are on high alert, with these districts canceling all classes from May 9-10 and resuming on May 11 with heightened security presence.[2] Plainview ISD announced they are coordinating threat containment with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Texas Education Agency, and the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Intelligence and Counterterrorism Division.[3] On May 10, Plainview police arrested a juvenile suspect for making terroristic threats against the school district on Snapchat “that resulted in a substantial group of the public being placed in fear of serious bodily injury or harm.”[4]


Significance: Active shooter threats on social media platforms including Snapchat, Facebook, and Twitter will likely continue disrupting students' and parents' daily activities. These threats will likely create a widespread perception of insecurity within local communities, multiplying unfounded alerts and reports to law enforcement. Continued threats will almost certainly negatively impact students’ mental health, very likely instilling fear of attending school, increase stress on campus, and lead to chronic truancy. Easy accessibility to these social media platforms almost certainly increases regional threat awareness, very likely intensifying media coverage of the event. The high quantity of threats will likely impact law enforcement's investigative efficiency, likely creating a need to prioritize which threats to investigate as credible. Online threats will very likely serve as a call for action and encourage copycat threats, likely motivating like-minded individuals to carry out attacks or escalate online threats. There is a roughly even chance future mass shooters will use multiple fake online threats ahead of attacks to create unfounded alerts to overwhelm and distract law enforcement from the intended targets. In future mass shooters’ planning for attacks, there is a roughly even chance they will make fake threats to their target to record the emergency response times and safety protocols. Student walk-outs will likely increase, likely demanding gun control reform and increased safety in schools. There is a roughly even chance lone wolves will target upcoming school walk-outs through vehicle attacks against demonstrators. Law enforcement will likely urge walk-out organizers to collaborate to establish safe protest routes to facilitate surveillance and the set up of temporary anti-hostile vehicle barriers.


Recommendations

  • The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) recommends that school districts nationwide remain on high alert and vigilant. We also recommend treating any threat as credible, even potential copycat threats, while conducting threat assessments with local law enforcement to determine the validity of the threat, and coordinate increased patrols near the school if a potential threat is found.

  • CTG recommends school districts nationwide emphasize to students, teachers, parents, and guardians the importance of the “see something, say something” concept if they become aware of a potential threat. School districts are highly encouraged to establish with local law enforcement an accessible mechanism to report tips on potential threats or perpetrators anonymously.

  • CTG recommends social media companies implement a widespread hash-sharing database. This would contain a list of common words or phrases that would alert content moderators and law enforcement to online posts containing violent material . Investigations into posts would entail following comments threads to ensure the monitoring of similar posts and individual engagement for any development.

  • CTG recommends local school districts share mental health resources and make counseling readily available to students and teachers. Districts should be prepared to address mental health concerns and accommodate students in anticipation of increased fear about attending school amid the threats. To help the students cope with possible fears, the schools should deploy crisis centers with available psychologists where students can get help if needed.

  • CTG recommends local law enforcement use child psychology specialists to incorporate children in police investigations. Local law enforcement should temporarily have a psychologist embedded in the investigation that can help interrogate children. These specialists should provide basic training to law enforcement on how to engage young individuals during investigations. Local authorities and schools should provide information to parents on how to discuss these matters with their children and inform them of available support through psychologists and experts.

  • CTG recommends local school districts adopt the ADD (Avoid-Deny-Defend) strategy rather than the “Run, Hide, Fight” method. Districts should train teachers and school administrators to adopt this method to prepare for future active shootings. ADD should become part of the school curriculum, practicing drills frequently so that teachers and students feel prepared.

  • CTG recommends schools conduct regular background checks and psychological screenings on personnel, if sufficient resources are available. This includes both faculty members, administration, and other employees. Schools nationwide should regularly screen students and visitors throughout the academic year. We also recommend emphasizing mental and physical well-being to reduce triggers and problematic behaviors inside school structures.

  • CTG recommends that individuals near school zones maintain heightened situational awareness. We recommend monitoring and reporting suspicious activity such as vehicles patrolling around school zones for a prolonged time, individuals wearing all-black clothing, or appearing likely to be concealing a weapon to local authorities.

  • CTG recommends that parents regularly monitor students' and children’s social media for suspicious activity. Parents should talk with their children about the threats and possible fears, and report to the school and local authorities if their children mention anything about suspicious activities, such as classmates posting threats or acting unusually. We recommend that parents regularly follow any developments and information posted by the local authorities and schools on their official websites and social media.

  • If there is any additional and or critical information please contact us at The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) by Telephone 202-643-2848 or email info@counterterrorismgroup.com

 

[1] Map of Four School Districts in North Texas, Utsav Yadav via Google Earth

[2] Four area schools taking precautions among reported online threats, KCBD, May 2023, https://www.kcbd.com/2023/05/10/four-area-schools-taking-precautions-among-reported-online-threats/

[3] Plainview ISD South Elementary Statements, Plainview ISD, May 2023, https://www.plainviewisd.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&ModuleInstanceID=1203&ViewID=7b97f7ed-8e5e-4120-848f-a8b4987d588f&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=8328&PageID=1

[4] City of Plainview Police Department - Arrest of Juvenile for Terroristic Threats to PISD, Plainview Police Department, https://www.plainviewtx.org/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=792

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