A recent FBI study that looked at pre-attack behaviors of 63 active shooters between 2000 and 2013 determined that 77% of them spent a week or longer planning their attack and about 46% spent a week or more actually preparing.
The most common response of bystanders to the concerning behaviors of those who later committed attacks was to communicate directly with them or do nothing. The warning signs ahead of an attack were reported to police in 41% of instances, according to the study.
“With so many attacks occurring, it can become easy to believe that nothing can stop an active shooter determined to commit violence," said Michael Schneider, the FBI special agent in charge of Denver’s field office. "Common reactions include comments like, ‘The offender just snapped’ and ‘There's no way that anyone can see this coming,’ which can fuel a narrative that we are in a new normal.
“I'm here today to state that I don't think that is the case," Schneider continued. "There are things that can be done, but we need the community's help.”
Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen and other top law enforcement officials gathered for a news conference Monday to plead with community members to use available resources for reporting potential threats of violence and other safety threats.
“I don't think people generally fail to act out of malice or poor intentions,” Colorado Bureau of Investigation Director John Camper said. “I think in many cases they simply second guess their gut feelings or rationalize those feelings away, and that's understandable, but that failure to act can also be deadly.”
Colorado has developed the Safe2Tell program, an avenue for schoolchildren to anonymously report potential threats to the safety of themselves or others and is managed through the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. The program is not a mental health care provider nor an emergency response unit, but a way to distribute tips to local law enforcement and school officials as needed.
The FBI also has an anonymous tip line, and the Colorado Springs police and Crime Stoppers accept tips. To anonymously report incidents in the Pikes Peak region, call (719) 634-7867. To reach Colorado Springs police, call (719) 444-7000 or dial 9-1-1 in emergencies.
Family members of Ahmad Alissa, the suspect in March’s Boulder supermarket shooting, told authorities after the attack they saw him with a gun a few days before the massacre and that his behavior concerned them. They did not report the weapon to law enforcement.
Schneider said the FBI study found diagnosed mental illnesses in about 25% of shooters studied, adding the review did not look at whether, in retrospect, the subjects had signs of undiagnosed mental illness. He said the shooters typically had numerous stressors that impact mental health in the year before their attacks, such as financial problems and interpersonal conflicts. He added the legal definition of mental illness differs from how mental stressors can change behavior.
Pazen said he knows the mass shootings events get intense attention from local, state and national media, and he hopes law enforcement’s messages about prevention are treated with the same importance.
"Everybody that is watching, everybody that is listening, everybody that will be reading about this press conference, they play a critical role in preventing tragedies from occurring in our community,” he said.