School Threat Assessments: Psychological and Behavioral Considerations


Langman, P. (2017). School threat assessments: Psychological and behavioral considerations. Journal of Health Service Psychology, 43, 32–40.


Preventing school shootings is a matter of conducting thorough, ongoing assessments of potential perpetrators. This is generally done in schools by a threat assessment team comprised of individuals in several roles and positions, including psychologists. This article addresses the importance of access to information and information exchange, warning signs of potential violence, elements of a comprehensive threat assessment (including motive, means, and opportunity), and the role of life stressors that contribute to desperation and rage, and three psychological types of school shooters.


Cornell, D.G. (2013). The Virginia student threat assessment guidelines: An empirically supported violence prevention strategy. In Bockler, N.B., Seeger, T., Sitzer, P. and Heitmeyer, W. (Editors).  School Shootings: International Research, Case Studies, and Concepts for Prevention. New York: Springer. Pp. 379-400.

Cornell, D.G. and Allen, K. (2011).  Development, evaluation, and future directions of the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines.  Journal of School Violence, 10, 88-106.

Department of Education. (2007). “Balancing Student Privacy and School Safety: A Guide to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act for Elementary and Secondary Schools.” Available at

Fein, R., Vossekuil, B., Pollack, W., Borum, R., Modzeleski, W., & Reddy, M. (2002). “Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates.” U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and U.S. Secret Service, National Threat Assessment Center, Washington, D.C.

Grossman, D. (2009). On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. New York, NY: Little, Brown.

Hare, R. (1999). Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us. New York: Guilford.

Langman, P. (2009). Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Langman, P. (2015). School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

Langman, P. (2016a). “Karl Pierson: ‘A Psychopath with a Superiority Complex.’” Available at

Langman, P. (2016b). “Role Models, Contagions, and Copycats: An Exploration of the Influence of Prior Killers on Subsequent Attacks.” Available at

Meloy, J.R., Hoffman, J., Roshdi, K. and Guldimann, A. (2014) Some warning behavior discriminate between school shooters and other students of concern.  Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 1, 203-211.

Millon, T. and Davis, R.D. (1998). Ten Subtypes of Psychopathy. In Millon, T., Simonson, E., Birket-Smith, M., and Davis, R.D. (Editors).  Psychopathy; Antisocial, Criminal, and Violent Behavior. New York: Guilford.

Millspaugh, S.B., Cornell, D.G., Huang, F.L., and Datta, P. (2015).  Prevalence of aggressive attitudes and willingness to report threats in middle school.  Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 2, 11-22.

Nekvasil, E.K. and Cornell, D.G. (2015).  Student Threat Assessment Associated with Safety in Middle Schools.  Journal of Threat Assessment and Management, 2, 98-113.

O’Toole, M. (2000). “The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective.”  Critical Incident Response Group, National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime, FBI Academy, Quantico, VA.

Safe Havens International. (2016). “Post-Incident Review: Arapahoe High School Active-Shooter Incident. Macon, GA: Safe Havens International.  Available at

Thank You to Our Spring 2017 Advertisers

1200 New York Ave NW, Ste 800

Washington DC 20005

p: 202.783.7663

f: 202.347.0550

Endorsed by the National Register