What I’m Learning at the FBI May Save Your Life!


See something, say something. Right? It’s been drilled into use since 9/11/01.

But I always wondered… what EXACTLY am I looking for?

Now, I know.

This fall I was invited to participate in the FBI’s Citizen’s Academy here in Los Angeles and one of the most beneficial lectures has been that on behavioral indicators of active shooters. By studying the hundreds of shooters that have emerged in the past twenty years, the FBI has observed what they call, “the path to violence.” Sometimes these paths show up to those who know the shooter or online; other times there’s no indication these steps are happening, even to close family and friends, as in the case of the Las Vegas shooter in 2017.

But what would someone like me even begin to look for? How does violence escalate in people who shoot up schools, movie theaters, or workplaces?

It starts with a person experiencing a grievance, usually in the form of a loss. Loss triggers stress. After suffering a devastating loss, like divorce, death, loss of a job, financial strain, bullying, or bad break up, these persons start to channel negative feelings and move to the next step… (Note: Mental illness has only occurred in 25% of active shooters in the past two decades.)

Ideation. This is the fantasy phase where the sufferer starts to fantasize about harming others.

Fantasy leads to the research and planning stage. The subject starts to learn about weapons and how other attackers played out their attacks. They select their targets and conduct surveillance.

Armed with this information, they begin to prepare by building an arsenal of weapons and observing how and when to attack.

Once properly prepared, the subject goes to the place of the attack and breaches it.

The attack then takes place, if uninterrupted.

Great. But what if the shooter isn’t giving anyone access to these stages? What if there is no warning? What if I just happen to be an innocent bystander? What can I look for in a situation that has escalated to the point of breach and attack? What signs tell me that I should say something?

Look for these:

1) Persons wearing clothing that is improper for location. For example, someone dressed in loose, baggy clothing or long coats during hot weather.

2) Repeatedly patting the upper body or excessive tucking of the shirt could be an indicator that someone has weapons or a bomb hidden under their clothes.

3) An intensely focused expression that includes emotionless face and/or eyes in a trance.

4) Excessive movement such as fidgeting, sweating, face flushing, eyes shifting, mumbling. These are also referred to as leakage. The body is involuntarily responding to the anxiety of the individual.

5) Walking deliberately. Walking with purpose. Walking with an unnatural gait. Walking with an unnatural posture.

6) A person who does not respond to someone who is giving a verbal or non-verbal authoritative command. Walks away. Does not listen.

7) Observe the hands. Are the hand closed or kept in pockets? If the person is unwilling or slow to show their hands, they may be holding something or have been inflicted with chemical burns due to mixing chemicals to make explosives.

Obviously, this is a heavy topic. But I’m convinced that if we all take extra steps to connect, contribute, and belong to each other’s lives, we will be making huge strides in crime-prevention, suicide-prevention, terrorism-prevention, and depression-prevention.

You can take “see something and say something” one step further and connect and contribute to the life of a person who may be suffering a grievance. Help one person belong and you help the whole society.

“Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the worst, the most terrible poverty of all. If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”


Want more? Check out the FBI’s recent report on active shooters HERE.

See something? Say something! Call the FBI hotline: 1-800-CALL-FBI (225-5324)



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