Authorities broke up a plan by New Jersey high school students to execute certain students and teachers on April 20, the seventh anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado. U.S. public schools in April saw at least a dozen Columbine-like plots foiled, from central Alaska to southern Florida, reports USA Today. Bill Modzeleski, who runs the federal Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, says that disaffected children talk about “out-Columbining, outdoing Columbine. So that’s the benchmark.” Authorities in several areas have responded by filing terrorism charges based on threats alone, paving the way for possible longer sentences and, in cases when attacks take place, trials in adult court.
School safety experts have long noted similarities between school shooters and terrorists, urging schools to use a “threat assessment” approach to safety that takes even implied threats seriously. A Secret Service study found that nearly all students threatening violence had thoughts of suicide in common. Most “had difficulties coping with significant losses or failures,” says Robert Sica, the agent in charge of the effort. Kevin Morrison, a defense attorney in Tulsa who writes about school crime for prosecutors and school police officers, says it’s important to note that most school attacks don’t have “some religious or political goal.”