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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 person’s issues at an early age?

Gene: Prevention! Intervention! The FBI and similar professions know what the behaviors are. We need to have more conversations about warning signs with kids and adults. Look for behavior that’s out of the norm. We all have bad days, but that’s different from a crisis day.

We need to have a holistic approach to this as well – everyone has a little responsibility. We can’t be just parents, just teachers, just mental health professionals or just law enforcement anymore. We all have a part to play in identifying warning signs.

The research shows that parents typically haven’t been engaged as much as they could have in some of these school shootings.

Law enforcement has traditionally had a responding role but they are becoming more proactive. They want to be called by 10 digits not three (9-1-1). It’s too late with three digits. Get to law enforcement earlier and ask them to be part of the solution.

If you’re an employer or a school, law enforcement wants to walk the building for both schools and offices, know the entrances and exits, know ahead of time.

In terms of identifying at an early age, it’s critical. We need to be able to identify behaviors and get kids the help they need. We need to look for trip wires. “If you see something, say something,” really holds true.

Look for “leakage” – kids who need help leak behavior to a friend or a family member, by text or social media. Adults need to pay attention. Their writings at school may hold clues. Their artwork may tell you something.

There is a pathway to violence. The fact that you’ve noticed behaviors and you’ve had a conversation with this young person, maybe you’ve interrupted that pathway.

The best prevention is early intervention. We should be teaching threat assessment as well – for teachers, guidance counselors and parents. It can’t be all run, hide, fight.

Awareness plus action equals prevention.

It’s important to have a baseline for mental health. Friends and family should know what the “normal” is so when it’s not normal, they can begin to ask questions.

What is being done from a federal level to address training and mental health?

Gene: There’s a bill being considered – the Threat Assessment, Prevention and Safety Act, TAPS. The bill would create a task force at the federal level to train local law enforcement and provide guidelines. There is funding attached to the TAPS Act and the Senate has their own version of the bill. This is another piece of prevention because you can only build so many jails.

Gene, thank you for sharing your knowledge with us.

We’ll share more of our conversation with Gene soon so be on the lookout. Our next topic and domestic violence and staying safe in the workplace.

About Gene Rugala

Eugene A. Rugala, Principal of Eugene A. Rugala and Associates LLC, a behavioral science, consultation, training and research firm located in Beaufort, South Carolina, is formerly of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). Mr. Rugala was assigned to the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC), FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia. Supervisory Special Agent Rugala was assigned to the NCAVC from February of 1995 until his retirement in September of 2005. Prior to retiring from the FBI, Mr. Rugala was Unit Chief of Behavioral Analysis Unit - 1, Threat Assessment and Counter Terrorism. Mr. Rugala, one of the FBI's “Profilers”, in the unit made famous by the book and movie The Silence of the Lambs, and the television show Criminal Minds specializes in the detailed behavioral analysis of violent crime to include homicide, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, and stalking. These analyses are provided to requesting law enforcement agencies in the form of offender profiles, crime scene analysis, investigative and interview strategies, media and crisis communication strategies and threat assessments. Mr. Rugala also consults with many corporations and universities in developing and implementing procedures and protocols for the prevention of violence in the workplace and in schools to include threat assessment and management services. Mr. Rugala has participated in ongoing research regarding stalking behavior, serial rape, intimate partner, workplace and school violence. Mr. Rugala has contributed to a number of publications dealing with workplace violence, school violence and stalking behaviors. Mr. Rugala is currently involved in on-going research with the University of Iowa and University of North Carolina Injury Prevention Centers in a NIOSH funded grant to evaluate workplace violence prevention programs in companies throughout the U.S. Mr. Rugala is a member of ASIS International and has been a featured speaker on workplace violence prevention and threat management at their national conference in the past and has assisted in the writing of the ASIS/SHRM American National Standard entitled Workplace Violence Prevention and Intervention. Mr. Rugala is also a national advisory board member of the Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence, a group of Fortune 500 companies who have come together to raise awareness and suggest strategies for companies to deal with intimate partner violence and it’s impact on the workplace. Mr. Rugala has contributed to the content and participated in the video production of Shots Fired: Guidance for Surviving an Active Shooter Situation: Flashpoint: Recognizing an Preventing Violence in the Workplace and Silent Storm: Intimate Partner Violence and Stalking and Its Impact on The Workplace. A version of these programs have been developed for university settings as well.

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