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Secret Service goes on the road to help curb school violence

by David Specht

MIAMI (AP) — The U.S. Secret Service is taking its effort to curb school violence on the road to help thousands of educators, law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals and others learn how to identify people who may be threats.

The latest stop in the Secret Service tour is this week in Miami, where officials say about 700 people will attend a session Wednesday by the agency’s National Threat Assessment Center. Similar events have been held in Los Angeles and Chicago since the November 2019 release of the latest analysis of school violence.

The events come just a few days after the second anniversary of the Valentine’s Day 2018 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that killed 17 people and wounded 17 others. The fathers of three students killed that day are part of the effort and spoke Tuesday during a news conference at the Miami Secret Service field office.

“It’s all about getting the word out,” said Tony Montalto, whose 14-year-old daughter Gina was slain. “We set out to make America’s schools safer.”

The Secret Service  report is the most comprehensive review of school attacks since the Columbine shootings in 1999. The report looked in depth at 41 school attacks from 2008 through 2017.

Lina Alathari, chief of the National Threat Assessment Center, said the research was launched just after the Parkland mass shooting. She said the Secret Service wants to spread the message as far as possible so that local officials can identify potential school violence perpetrators before they strike.

“Our agency provides this training for free to the community,” Alathari said.

The report covers school attacks from 2008 through 2017 at K-12 schools. They were chosen if the attacker was a current or recent former student within the past year who used a weapon to injure or kill at least one person at the school while targeting others. Those attacks killed 19 people and injured 79 others.

Ryan Petty, whose 14-year-old daughter Alaina died in the Parkland shooting, said the point of the Secret Service training sessions is to create a greater understanding of who might be plotting school attacks — especially greater focus on students who exhibit behavioral problems, are being bullied or have other psychological issues.

The man accused in the Parkland slayings, Nikolas Cruz, had well-documented mental health issues but little was done. Had a more thorough evaluation of Cruz been done, Petty said, perhaps the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting would have been averted.

“It would have made all the difference in the world,” Petty said.

Cruz, now 21, faces the death penalty if convicted in the Parkland shootings. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life prison sentence, but prosecutors have rejected that and his trial is expected to begin later this year.

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