The second anniversary of the Parkland tragedy just passed. For most of the past two years, three dads who each lost a child in the massacre have devoted their time to making schools safer.
In their latest effort, Max Schachter, Tony Montalto, and Ryan Petty are helping to publicize a new federal report on school shootings.
“I thought that when I said goodbye to my boy, he would come back to my wife and I, I never thought that he would be murdered in his English class,” said Max Schachter about his son, Alex, who was a freshman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
That heartbreak is precisely what the United States Secret Service is trying to prevent with its report, “Protecting America’s Schools: A U.S. Secret Service Analysis of Targeted School Violence.” It’s an exhaustive examination of 41 school violence incidents in a ten-year period, and it provides a blueprint for avoiding these calamities.
“Our nation must learn that the best way to stop the next school shooting is to proactively prevent it,” said Tony Montalto, the president of Stand With Parkland.
Montalto became an activist after his daughter, Gina, died in the rampage at MSD High School.
“The U.S. Secret Service uses threat assessments to protect our executive branch,” Schachter said. “Our children deserve the same protection.”
All three fathers spoke at a news conference Tuesday afternoon inside the Secret Service building in Doral, at which the experts who put the report together presented their findings.
The report emphasizes the need for schools to conduct competent threat assessments to find kids who may be on a dangerous path and turn them around before it’s too late. In many instances, concerning behavior is obvious to anyone trained to detect it.
In the Parkland case, the MSD Public Safety Commission determined that the threat assessment done on the shooter was completely botched.
The research showed many similarities between school attackers, including signs of mental illness, often exacerbated by a high-stress event in their lives, such as parents divorcing or poverty becoming more acute.
“Every attacker went through social stressors in the months before the attack,” said Steven Driscoll of the National Threat Assessment Center. “Often it involved bullying and sometimes a romantic breakup.”
Motives varied, but most involved a grievance with classmates compounded by a desire to kill or to commit suicide, and a desire for infamy.
The report can be read in its entirety on the Secret Service website. It is full of information and recommendations but it’s only useful if school districts act on it.
“Superintendents should be here,” Petty said, speaking of whether the leaders of South Florida’s school districts would attend Wednesday’s Secret Service presentation of the report’s findings. “Because this starts at the top, each of those superintendents needs to understand this material, and know how to implement it with fidelity in their district, and they should be learning, nothing they do matters if the kids don’t go home.”
Petty lost his daughter, Alaina, in the massacre. He now serves on the MSD Public Safety Commission and on the state Board of Education.