17-year-old Oregon student Grant Acord was arrested by police last week and is charged with attempted aggravated murder and possession and manufacturing explosive devises. Reports say he was planning to blow up his school. We should all be unbelievably grateful that this tragedy never came to fruition and use this as an opportunity to jumpstart our violence prevention efforts.
How was this potential tragedy averted? Details of the story are still unfolding, but it appears that Acord had discussed his interest in bombs with many of his classmates. Thomas Stone, a student at West Albany High School, told KATU-TV, “He was just, just kind of randomly came up to us and started talking about the different materials that you need to make a bomb. Like, he was describing how to make one, which thinking back should have brought up more suspicion." Numerous others reported similar accounts.
However, it was fellow student Truman Templeton who provided the tip that led to the arrest. Truman had told his mother that he did not want to attend the school assembly. When she asked why, he elaborated on Acord’s discussions on bombs. The mother knew in her gut that this was serious and relayed the information to a family friend, which eventually made it to the police.
According to Benton County District Attorney John Haroldson, upon Acord’s arrest they found a detailed attack plan, timeline, and a supply of weapons. Haroldson stated that the police found explosives such as pipe bombs, Molotov cocktails, napalm bombs and more, hidden in a compartment under his bedroom floor.
It’s unnerving to think what would have happened if Templeton had not said something. We are all lucky that this student had the wisdom and courage to open up to his parent, and that his mother took immediate action. Regardless, our schools need increased funding and training for mental health services, so that they can’t take control, spot the warning signs, and prevent future violence.
Having studied what causes people to become violent for over thirty years, I know that prevention is not an exact science. But when one looks at the backgrounds of violent perpetrators such as Adam Lanza, Jared Loughner, Ted Kaczynski, Charles Manson, and David Berkowitz, it is easy to see the common pattern in their childhoods. They all had numerous risk factors that accumulated over time. Risk factors include lack of healthy guidance, psychological problems, chaotic surrounding neighborhoods, and more. When these traits outweigh protective factors such as having a resilient temperament, a relationship with a supportive adult, or the opportunity to be successful, it increases the risk of violent behavior. In fact, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention found that children with more than five risk factors and less than six protective factors have an 80% chance of committing future violent acts.
Using cutting-edge behavioral health research, we need to become proactive with our violence prevention efforts. Mental health services should be widely available and easily accessible throughout all schools. Objective violence prevention assessments should be used with students on a regular basis. Teachers, nurses, school counselors, and community members need education on what risk factors lead to violence and what to do when they see a red flag.
A truly successful prevention program goes beyond schools too. It requires collaboration and coordination from parents, mental health centers, youth juvenile departments, and the police. Many times, agencies (or individuals) focus solely on their own agendas, even though information obtained by one affects the other. Can you imagine if Templeton’s mother had not shared her information? If she had been content just keeping her own child home from school that day? Without coordination, violence prevention is ineffective.
Let’s start a national dialogue on how to create a more integrated care system with open communication among all groups. If we work together towards the common goal of prevention, we can combat the extraordinarily high economic, social, physical, and emotional consequences that result from extreme violence.
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–Dr. Kathy Seifert