Do you know your mission in life? People discover this in different ways – a defining moment, a strong mentor, a devastating tragedy. I found mine in a way that I would never wish on anyone - when my son Dylan was murdered in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. After this horrific loss, I made it my life’s mission to protect other families from experiencing the anguish of losing their child through my work at Sandy Hook Promise.
My heart aches every time I hear the dreaded news of yet another mass shooting in this country. And almost without fail, in the wake of these tragedies, we learn that the shooters demonstrated signs and signals of violence that were missed or misunderstood by those around them. Despite reports on the recent tragedy at Santa Fe High school, the shooter exhibited signs that went unnoticed or dismissed. These signs included social media posts with a photo of a “Born to Kill” t-shirt, and a picture of a knife, gun, and torch atop a mattress. He also reportedly felt bullied and socially isolated. These are all signs that a person may be at risk of committing acts of violence against themselves or others. We can and we must do better at recognizing these signs – we need to train people to know the signs of violence and empower them to take action before it’s too late, and before more lives are lost to senseless, preventable gun violence.
Through my work with Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) we have learned that in 4 out of 5 school shootings at least one person has knowledge of the attacker’s plan and that 70 percent of people who die by suicide tell someone about their plans or give some type of warning. Survivors of the Santa Fe High School shooting didn’t seem surprised that the shooter carried out his heinous act. That is why it is so important that both youth and adults know the signs of at-risk behaviors to stop potential shootings or violent acts from happening. An individual who is overly aggressive, chronically isolated, exhibiting threatening behavior, expressing a strong fascination with firearms or past mass shootings, is a harming themselves, or committing violence against others, should not be over-looked. While one warning sign on its own does not mean a person is planning an act of violence, several of these signs together could mean the person is experiencing a crisis that could turn into a tragedy.
At Sandy Hook Promise, we are focused on one goal: Preventing gun violence BEFORE it happens. To do this, we have trained over 3.5 million students and adults on how to identify the signs of violence and to take action through our proven, no-cost Know the Signs Programs.
We teach students how to create an inclusive and connected community through our Start With Hello program which trains students how to reach out to those who are socially isolated and make them feel seen and valued. Our proven Say Something program teaches students how to identify and assess at-risk behaviors and report them to a trusted adult before violence occurs. To date, schools who’ve implemented this program have averted several school shooting plots, suicides, bullying and other acts of violence. We also recently launched our Say Something Anonymous Reporting System nationwide, which allows students to anonymously report tips through a smartphone app, website, or a dedicated telephone hotline. You can learn more about the app at www.SaySomething.net.
Schools should be a safe haven – a place of joy, learning, and social connection. Our kids shouldn’t be scared to go to school or expect a shooting to happen at any given time. We must promise to protect our children from gun violence. Make the promise today at www.SandyHookPromise.org. and wear orange on June 1 st for Gun Violence Awareness Day. You can also look for events in your area from June 1-3 rd.
Together, we can and will protect children from gun violence and honor those we’ve already lost if we take action today.
Note: We selected this Op-Ed to be published in our opinion section as a contribution to public debate. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of its author(s) and do not reflect the views or the editorial line of Univision News.