How do we stop mass shootings? It's a team effort, former FBI agent writes

  • Katherine Schweit, a former Daily Herald reporter who went on to lead the FBI's active shooter program, has written the book "Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis" to show how regular civilians play a crucial role in preventing such tragedies. She's also launching a podcast on the subject next week.

    Katherine Schweit, a former Daily Herald reporter who went on to lead the FBI's active shooter program, has written the book "Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis" to show how regular civilians play a crucial role in preventing such tragedies. She's also launching a podcast on the subject next week. Courtesy of Katherine Schweit

  • "Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis" was written by retired FBI special agent, and onetime Daily Herald reporter, Katherine Schweit.

    "Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis" was written by retired FBI special agent, and onetime Daily Herald reporter, Katherine Schweit. Courtesy of Katherine Schweit

  • Among the 86 fake championship rings federal agents seized earlier this week at O'Hare International Airport were these counterfeit New York Yankees World Series rings.

    Among the 86 fake championship rings federal agents seized earlier this week at O'Hare International Airport were these counterfeit New York Yankees World Series rings. Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection

 
Posted9/17/2021 5:30 AM

When we talk about how to prevent mass shootings, we typically look to law enforcement or politicians or even mental health professionals for answers.

We also should look to ourselves.

 

That's the idea behind the new book "Stop the Killing: How to End the Mass Shooting Crisis" by retired FBI special agent (and onetime Daily Herald reporter) Katherine Schweit.

Published last month, the book is an easy-to-read account of why mass shootings occur, who perpetrates them and how everyday civilians can play a crucial role in preventing them.

"The public is the most valuable resource that we have for stopping this type of targeted violence, and they're the least engaged," Schweit told us.

Schweit ought to know. Before retiring, she served as the head of the FBI's active shooter program, a career path that began in the days after the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 26 people -- 20 of them kids -- were killed by a gunman. Working at the time out of the FBI counterintelligence division in Washington, D.C., she was assigned to a gun violence task force under the leadership of then-Vice President Joe Biden.

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The task force made great progress on how law enforcement responds to a shooting, Schweit said, but she also came to understand that police are only a small part of the solution.

"Law enforcement is about a million strong, and the public is about 300-plus million strong. The only way we are going to actually stop the shootings is if the public becomes as engaged as the law enforcement community is," she said.

How the public can help

Schweit wrote "Stop the Killing" hoping it would read like a conversation between neighbors, but with data supporting her conclusions.

Because law enforcement often is last to know when someone has been exhibiting red flags, it's those closest to a potential mass shooter -- family, neighbors, friends, co-workers -- who most often spot troubling signs first, she said.

And there are almost always signs.

"A big mistake is that we think that people snap," Schweit told us. "They don't snap. These are planned events. Sometimes they plan for a handful of days, but more likely they have been planning for weeks, months and sometimes even years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There is predictable planning and preparation that goes into these incidents, and all of that planning and preparation is done in a way that people can see," she added. "And if you see something and you say something, just like the phrase says, you're going to prevent this type of type of violence. We know that. Not on a hunch. We know that from research."

So what are some of the signs to watch for?

They include someone purchasing weapons and spending more time practicing with them; shutting down social media accounts and cutting off communication with others; giving away possessions; stopping medications; and generally just behaving not like themselves.

"It's important to remember that you know the people around you better than anyone else," Schweit said. "And if you see somebody beginning to act in what we would call in atypical manner, meaning not their normal way, that should be a red flag."

Schweit recognizes that many are reluctant to contact authorities if someone they know is acting strange, fearing they might be getting someone in trouble over concerns that might prove unfounded. They need to do it anyhow, she said.

"You're never going to get somebody in trouble by trying to help them, but you might prevent a mass shooting," she said. "That may sound dramatic, but I've worked these cases. I've worked out at the places where these mass shootings have occurred. And when it happens, there's no way to take it back."

One more thing

Along with her book, Schweit is launching a "Stop the Killing" podcast in which she and co-host Sarah Ferris will take deep dives into her FBI case files and reveal an insider's account of what happened and what went wrong at some of the world's worst mass shootings.

The first episode drops Thursday, Sept. 23, on various podcast platforms.

In the meantime, you can find the book at all the big online retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, as well as independent bookstores across the country.

Former Naperville police chief Bob Marshall
Former Naperville police chief Bob Marshall - Daily Herald File Photo
Ex-Naperville chief honored

Retired Naperville police chief Robert Marshall will receive the Kids' Champion Award tonight, from the KidsMatter organization.

The Naperville group has spent 20 years trying to help young people make good decisions, not destructive ones, when facing social, emotional and physical stressors.

"As an early member of the KidsMatter board, Bob suggested including student voices," Executive Director Nina Menis said. "KidsMatter began a Senior High Board of student representatives from area high schools to contribute their unique insights. Throughout his career, Bob has been committed to creating opportunities to empower youth."

Marshall was involved in the organization from the start, after the police department noticed an increase in self-harm, drug and alcohol use, and suicide attempts, according to KidsMatter.

"What we needed to know was why kids were engaging in this behavior," he said. "When kids are self-medicating to alleviate stress, and they are looking to harm themselves, we needed to provide ways for youth and their parents to understand what is happening and to give them the resources they need to prevent the risky behavior."

Marshall retired in June. Interim Chief Jason Arres continues to serve on KidsMatter's Board of Asset Trustees.

These phony Chicago Bulls NBA title rings were among 86 fake championship rings federal agents seized earlier this week at O'Hare International Airport.
These phony Chicago Bulls NBA title rings were among 86 fake championship rings federal agents seized earlier this week at O'Hare International Airport. - Courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Spot the fake

Few businesses took off during the pandemic like sports collectibles. So it's no surprise that as the value of trading cards, autographed items and other memorabilia soared, a host of fakes and counterfeit items flooded the market.

Federal customs agents at O'Hare International Airport slowed that flow of bogus merchandise just a little Monday when they intercepted a shipment from China that contained 86 fake championship rings.

The haul included 24 phony rings from the Chicago Bulls, 34 from the New York Yankees, 22 from the St. Louis Cardinals and six from the Philadelphia Eagles. Had they been legit, the rings would have been worth $2.38 million, authorities said.

Customs officials said they knew the rings were fake because they were of poor quality and lacked security features. They were destined for a home in Florissant, Missouri, they said.

• Have a question, tip or comment? Email us at copsandcrime@dailyherald.com.

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