Warning Signs

Warning Signs & Concerning Behaviors

Mass Violence is a serious public health threat for our schools and communities. Tragedies often leave us wondering how and why something so senseless and random could occur. Many experts have studied previous incidents of mass violence in an effort to prevent future tragedies. Below is a list of features identified by experts as potential warning signs for risk. While there is generally no one feature that will definitively indicate a person is at risk of committing an act of mass violence, if someone you know is displaying multiple features described below and/or if you have reason to believe and are concerned that someone you know is at risk, trust your instincts and reach out NOW.  Call 911 NOW.

In a TIME article (2018), it was noted that in ALL mass shooting incidents studied in recent history, there were “pre-attack” concerns and missed opportunities for intervention. Let’s not repeat history, let’s pay attention, let’s work together to keep our community and the people we love, safe.



"Red Zone" Pre-Attack Behaviors that May Indicate Imminent Threat

  • Dramatic change in appearance (e.g. hair, tattoos)
  • Abrupt and unexplained end to use of alcohol, drugs, and/or medications ("cleansing/purifying")
  • Exploring ways to enter restricted areas which could be potential targets
  • Stockpiling of weapons, ammunition, IEDs, etc.
  • Pre-attack staging to physically and mentally prepare for the attack
  • Creation of a "legacy token" (e.g. manifesto video) to claim credit for or explain act of violence

Pre-Attack Ideations & Behaviors

  • Homicidal Ideations
  • Fantasies about Violently Hurting Others
  • Dramatically Increased Interest in Past Attacks or Attackers
  • Access to and/or Have Used Weapons
  • Interest in Obtaining Firearms and/or Explosives
  • Interest or Purchase of Tactical Gear, Clothing
  • Pre-Attack Research and Planning
  • Verbal or Written Statements about Violent Plans Against Self or Others

Common Themes

  • Harbors Grievances & a Deep Sense of Injustice (often related to work, finances, or relationships)
  • Believes They Have Been Treated Unfairly and/or No-One Cares
  • Feels Personally Victimized (e.g. bullied, persecuted, injured by others)
  • Feels the Group with Whom They Identify has been Victimized
  • Has Difficulty Coping with Losses, Setbacks, or Personal Failures
  • May Appear in a "Downward Spiral"
  • Others Have Expressed Concern the Individual May Become Violent

Recent and Chronic Stressors

  • Major Personal Loss (e.g. Death, Break-Up, Divorce in Family)
  • Loss of Stabilizing Family Member
  • Financial
  • Job Related
  • Conflicts with Friends/Peers
  • Marital Problems
  • Abuse of Drugs/Alcohol
  • Conflicts at School
  • Physical Injury
  • Conflict with Family Members (e.g. Parents)
  • Sexual Stress/Frustration
  • Criminal Problems
  • Civil Problems
  • Death of Friend/Relative
  • Acute or Chronic Illness

Behavioral & Emotional Indicators

  • Sense of Hopelessness
  • Suicidal Ideations or Prior Suicidal Attempts
  • Presence or Increase in Mental Health Symptoms (e.g. Anxiety, Depression, Paranoia, Psychosis)
  • Abuse of Drugs &/or Alcohol
  • Increasing Isolation & Withdrawal
  • Decreased Performance at School or Job
  • Increasingly Concerning Interpersonal Interactions and/or Behaviors
  • Increasing Sense of Recklessness with Little Regard for Future Consequences (e.g. Sexual, Financial)
  • Lack of Fear about Death and/or Incarceration

Indicators Are Adopted from:

The School Shooter-A Quick Reference Guide; FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU)
MASS VIOLENCE in AMERICA; Causes, Impacts, and Solutions, August, 2019; National Council for Behavioral Health

Palm Beach County makes no representations, warranties or guarantees on the providers listed here, including but not limited to, the quality of services or service providers or their staff, availability of services, quality of services, licensing or credentials of providers or staff, capability, security of site or facility, education, integrity or experience. Provider/program information listed here is not intended to be a complete list of providers/resources/programs available in Palm Beach County. This list of providers represents only a portion of programs available in Palm Beach County and is provided with the intent that it be available for personal and not commercial use. We strongly encourage you to research for yourself to determine the appropriate provider and visit https://211palmbeach.org/get-help-now to obtain additional resource information to assist you with your provider/program/service needs.

This project was supported by Grant No. 2018-MO-BX-0009 awarded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Bureau of Justice Assistance is a component of the Department of Justice's Office of Justice Programs, which also includes the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the National Institute of Justice, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the SMART Office. Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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