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School Shootings & Violence Prevention

We had the opportunity to sit down with Gene Rugala last month to talk about school shootings, workplace violence, intimate partner violence, stalking and much more.

Since retiring from the FBI and moving from Virginia, Gene has lived in Beaufort with his wife Edie for 15 years and has been involved in the community in a variety of ways from being a past Board President of CODA (before CODA merged with Hope Haven to become Hopeful Horizons) to being member of the board of the Spanish Moss Trail. Edie is involved in reading programs at local elementary schools and is a past board member of Hope Haven. Gene has a consulting business working from home dealing with some of the issues we will talk to him about today.

Here’s part one of our conversation with Gene.

Looking back on your career with the FBI and what you know about killers, how does a person become a killer or a rapist? What is different in their brains?

Gene: I honestly don’t know. Is it nature or nurture? A biological component? Could there be a “killer” chromosome? Maybe.

Or is it environment? A loving family versus other circumstances. Love and compassion usually mean a better chance of raising a good kid. But sometimes you do all the right things and for whatever reason, that person veers off in a different direction. There’s no rule book for raising kids.

Where does trauma fit into that?

Gene: Young people exposed to violence can model that same type of violence. Violence is used to solve problems, especially if it’s all they’ve known. With that level of violence growing up, PTSD is showing up more and more. You don’t have to have been on the battlefield to have PTSD.

Most times, well-adjusted kids don’t end up being school shooters or participating in workplace violence.

Is there anything parents can do or be aware of as their kids are entering the teen years?

Gene: With today’s technology, teenagers are in their own world. It’s tough for parents to interject and stay involved, but parents need to know what they’re up to and what they’re looking at online.

Talk to your teens! Do things together. Have conversations and family vacations. Do things as a family. Parents need to develop bonds of connection with their teens.

Teens like boundaries and need restrictions – adults do too!

Be alert to changes in your child’s behavior. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out what’s important to your kids.

There are no guarantees that doing these things means a good outcome, but your odds are heightened.

Where does resilience fit into this?

Gene: Some of the shooters in recent situations lack the bounce-back factor. They have a harder time bouncing back from setbacks and don’t have the coping skills to manage life when things don’t go their way. They can’t see that other opportunities will arise.

If they had a setback, they internalize it and it becomes a grievance that they personalize and they cannot get through. Grievance piles onto other grievances. Coupled with other issues, this could lead to some other violent act. Teens in this scenario will make threats, lash out, etc. They are going after someone who “wronged them.” Perception is their reality.

We need to impart on teenagers some of those coping skills and resilience so they learn that there are many ways to look at a situation. And keep in mind, not all of teens without the bounce-back factor become school shooters!

How do we identify a pe