SitRep, or situation report, was used widely in World War II by the military to describe anything from troop deployments to details of the aftermath of military conflicts. Another term that is commonly used to discuss an event after it has occurred is an After Action Report or After Action Review (AAR). State and federal agencies regularly release AARs related to mass shootings, many of which we provide on our resource page. We have designed our SitReps to shed light on the research and lessons learned from these attacks concerning behavioral threat assessment and physical safety and security measures.
It is important to say clearly, the blame lays squarely at the feet of the person or persons who planned and carried out the attack. DPrep Safety Division remains committed to reducing the contagion effect that comes from glorifying and naming the attackers.
The purpose of our SitRep reports is to provide a regular update to the threat, BIT and CARE community on effective ways to prevent this violence from occurring in the future.
Target: Screening of The Dark Knight Rises
Location: Aurora, CO
Date: July 20, 2012
Victims: 12 Killed, 58 Injured
At the start of the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the attacker left the theater, propping open the door behind him. He returned a few minutes later dressed in head-to-toe protective gear and deployed two tear gas canisters into the theater. He then opened fire, killing twelve and injuring 58. He surrendered to police outside the theater. The police found a package addressed to his psychiatrist that contained a notebook with details of his attack plan and his obsession with killing, as well as booby traps and multiple IEDs.
One of the lessons learned from this attack was the importance of having team leadership align with national standards. BIT/CARE and threat chairs are often the chief student affairs officer, dean of students or conduct officer. In a co-chair system, there should be clear policy, procedure and practice guidelines to ensure areas of responsibility are well defined. BIT/CARE and threat teams are governed primarily by FERPA and team communications should be understood in this capacity. When mental health professionals chair a team, there is a danger of seeing the information sharing under state confidentiality law or privilege, which is a more restrictive standard of communication.
Further Reading: Ending Campus Violence by Dr. Brian Van Brunt; DPrep Safety’s Behavioral Intervention, CARE & Threat Assessment Team Audit Tool
Teams work best when they include membership from a variety of core campus areas including student conduct, counseling, and police/campus safety. Leaving any of these three core areas off the team severely limits the ability of the team to accurately view the elements of a case from a variety of viewpoints. In addition to these three areas, teams should include members from residential life (as applicable), health services, athletics, ADA/504 accommodations, Title IX, human resources, and faculty representation. Teams should operate in the range of 8-12 members, with weekly or bi-weekly meetings.
As with many threat cases, the attacker’s environmental stressors that serve as triggers, catalysts or escalators toward violent action should be identified and monitored in cases that are deemed higher risk. Catalyst events can include the loss of academic major or career potential, the loss of an intimate relationship, the death of a loved one, termination from a job, suspension or expulsion from an academic program, the diagnosis of a terminal/chronic disease, loss or change in therapy or medical options/treatment, financial distress, or loss of housing. If more than one of these occur, this increases the level of concern. In this case, the attacker failed a key oral exam on June 7th and dropped out of his program of study. In a rare example of clarity on this issue, the attacker writes, “people would erroneously believe that failures with women or with jobs led to…the rampage. Both failures were expediting catalysts, not the reason. My causation being my state of mind for the past 15 years.”
Further Reading: Understanding and Treating Incels by Dr. Chris Taylor & Dr. Brian Van Brunt
Leakage in an attack is the intentional or unintentional sharing of attack details prior to the violent action. A legacy token is a manifesto or explanation of the attackers motivations and/or reasons for the attack. Attackers often deliver a this legacy token in the hours prior to the attack. In this shooting, there was some inaccurate reporting that a notebook detailing the attacker’s thinking and plans was mailed a month prior to the attack. In reality, it arrived in the mail room addressed to the attacker’s psychiatrist on the day of the attack. The Isle Vista attack, El Paso shooting, Virginia Tech massacre, and Collier County shooting at an LA Fitness all involve token legacies shared at the moment of attack.
Further Reading: An Educator’s Guide to Assessing Threats in Student Writing: Social Media, Email, and other Narrative by Brian Van Brunt, W. Scott Lewis, and Jeffrey H. Solomon
Determining access to firearms, incendiary devices or other weapons is an essential part of assessing the lethality and actionability of an attack plan when conducting a violence risk or threat assessment. In this case, the attacker acquired high capacity magazines and weapons immediately following the failure of his oral exam. The acquisition of weapons occurred immediately prior to the attack in the Uvalde shooting and the El Paso attack. In the Norway attack, weapons were acquired over time. These attacks also involved the acquisition of ammunition and para-military protective/tactical gear. In coordination with the BIT/CARE team and law enforcement, campus mail room staff should receive training in, and develop a protocol for, responding to suspicious packages.
Target: Inland Regional Center
Location: San Bernardino, CA
Date: December 2, 2015
Attackers: 28m & 29m
Victims: 14 Killed, 22 Injured
Islamic extremists attended a work training and holiday party at Inland Regional Center, left and returned in tactical clothing and shot numerous attendees, killing 14 and injuring 22. They planned to detonate an IED but were engaged in a subsequent vehicle pursuit and shootout, and both suspects were killed. They were found with AR-15s, semi-automatic pistols, and IEDs.
There has been an increase in recent years with attackers spending time researching and developing increased tactical abilities related to weapons systems, strategy and planning of their attacks. This attack involved a high degree of sophistication, including counter measures related to cell phone tracking and methodical planning. Law enforcement should be prepared to engage attackers with higher lethality weapons systems, ammunition, body armor and surveillance capabilities. This includes awareness of explosives, including secondary attacks on staging areas for first responders, such as delayed explosive devices placed prior to the attack. This was one of the tactics involved in this attack. Realigning and enhancing this response in collaboration with FBI, fusion centers, ATF, and state police will enhance the survivability of and safety of first responders in increasingly complicated threat environments.
As with many attacks, the planning occurred privately with few opportunities for reports to police, a behavioral intervention team (BIT) or human resources. Colleges, K-12 schools, and workplaces should invest in the development of these teams and attend to early approach behaviors such as depression, isolation, fixation and focus on targets, grievance collection, leakage, and bullying/teasing as opportunities for early detection of potential violence to self or others.
Further Reading: ”Beyond the Red Flags” by Dr. Brian Van Brunt & Dr. Amy Murphy
Home grown attacks are much more common than coordinated attacks from outside the U.S. These single cell attacks may occur independently of larger terrorist networks and often depend on local resources and planning to carry out the attack. College and university campus law enforcement should attend to trends in extremist violence targeting the various religious groups, white supremacist ideology, and individuals focused on women as targets in incel related attacks.
Further Reading: ”Terrorist in Training” by Dr. Lisa Pescara-Kovach, Dr. Brian Van Brunt, & Dr. Amy Murphy; Understanding and Treating Incels by Dr. Chris Taylor & Dr. Brian Van Brunt; White Supremacist Violence by Dr. Brian Van Brunt, Dr. Lisa Pescara-Kovach, & Bethany Van Brunt; Audit of the Department of Justice’s Strategy to Address the Domestic Violent Extremism Threat
While we don’t want to focus most resources on outlier behavior, it is essential to review cases that may shed light on emerging trends. In this case, the female suspect was believed to have ties to extremists. Data supports males as the overwhelming drivers of these attacks. While female attackers and attackers with ties to overseas terrorism cells and more coordinated counter-surveillance measures are not common in mass shootings, understanding this as a potential escalating pattern is important to stay ahead of the attacker’s plans.
Those in a first response role found themselves experiencing sensory overload at they came into the scene. Preparation, planning, and training are critical to assist first responders to successfully engage and neutralize the threat. Understanding the building’s layout, particularly when there are multiple hallways in a large building like the Inland Regional Center. Likewise, having a clear and consistent approach to marking rooms clear will prevent the need to repeat clearing rooms (an element in this attack). Another element is coordination with first responders who may serve in a volunteer role or arrive in a personal vehicle. Having a clear plan for vehicles prior to an emergency event prevents blocking access, as occurred here and in numerous other attacks, including Aurora and the Naval Yard.
The greatest cause for death following an active shooting is loss of blood. Training staff at schools, colleges, workplaces, community centers and sports/event facilities in Stop the Bleed has a drastic effect on keeping people alive by reducing bleeding until medical first responders arrives.