Psychologist reveals the best way schools, students can prepare to respond to shootings

2021 has been the deadliest year for school shootings in the past four years. Shootings have also led to copycat threats, including after the November school shooting in Oxford, Michigan.17-year-old student Micah Martin from the PBS NewsHour's Student Reporting Labs network talked to psychologist and school shooting expert, Peter Langman, about steps schools can take to deal with those threats.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Amna Nawaz:

    While 2021 has been the deadliest year for school shootings in the past four years, shootings have also led to copycat threats, including after the November school shooting in Oxford, Michigan.

    Seventeen-year-old student Micah Martin from our Student Reporting Labs network talked to psychologist and school shooting expert Peter Langman about steps that schools can take to deal with those threats.

  • Micah Martin:

    Hi. My name is Micah Martin. I'm a senior at the F.V. Pankow Center School in Clinton Township, Michigan.

    And I'm really, really excited to talk to you, Dr. Langman, because there's a high level of anxiety among students. And everyone wants a little bit of insight on what's been going on lately.

  • Peter Langman, Psychologist:

    Well, thank you for having me.

  • Micah Martin:

    My first question for you is, what do you think schools can do to prevent shootings? Or what signs can students, like, look for?

  • Peter Langman:

    Well, the most important thing that schools can do is to implement what's called a threat assessment system.

    And what this means is that there are people on the school staff who are trained to investigate safety concerns that are brought to their attention. And to make that work, everyone in the school community, including not only the staff, but the students and parents as well, should be educated into the warning signs, so they know what to report to the threat assessment team.

  • Micah Martin:

    After the Oxford shooting, there were a lot of schools being closed down or just being beyond scared because of some empty threats. And it became quite common.

    Why do you think that's happening right now?

  • Peter Langman:

    When there's a lot of threats in the wake of an attack, most of them, as you said, are empty threats.

    Kids may think it's funny somehow to call in a hoax bomb scare or a school shooting threat. They may think, hey, we can get out of school for a day. They don't realize the anxiety they're causing for students, staff and parents. They probably often don't realize that that is criminal behavior.

    If they understood that that's a crime, they may not do it. So, I think we need to educate students about why it's wrong, how wrong it is to make those kind of empty threats.

    Now, in some cases, they may not be empty threats. And there's a lot of attention to what's called either the contagion effect or copycat effect. A lot of kids seem to take previous shooters as role models, maybe follow in the footsteps of someone else who's committed an attack.

    So, we can't assume, in the wake of an attack, that all subsequent threats in the next couple weeks are empty threats. That's why it's important to take each threat seriously and investigate it to make sure we don't miss anything.

  • Micah Martin:

    As you know, students have been feeling very anxious these past couple of weeks, which is obviously normal.

    But how do you think we should take care of our mental health during this time and hopefully feel safe again?

  • Peter Langman:

    You know, unfortunately, the world can be a dangerous place, so there's no guarantee. We can't tell children nothing's going to happen.

    The best we can do is reassure them that school shootings, despite what we see in the media, they remain very rare events, that most schools are safe. But they can also feel safe by knowing what the system is, in terms of how to report someone. Probably the most important one is some sort of anonymous tip line, whether that's a phone number, a number students can text, a button on the school's Web site, some way to make it as easy as possible for students to come forward anonymously and share what they know.

    That's the best way to get the information the threat assessment team needs to at least start an investigation.

  • Micah Martin:

    Thank you so much, Dr. Langman, for speaking with me today and giving me and some of my fellow teens out there some insight on what's been going on and showing things from another perspective.

    I really, really appreciate having you with us.

  • Peter Langman:

    Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

Listen to this Segment