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SHSU student team helps to prevent campus shooters

Senior Reporter

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014

Updated: Thursday, February 13, 2014 01:02

Nerf Gunman

Submitted photo.

A set of "Nerf gunman" had the SHSU police lockdown campus in the fall 2010 semester.

Sam Houston State University’s Students of Concern Crisis Management Team has prevented at least two campus shootings throughout its five years of existence, according to Dean of the Students of Sam Houston State University John Yarabeck.

The SOC team is a partnership between the Dean of the Students office and the Counseling Center that takes proactive measures to help identify and counsel students who may become depressed or even suicidal during their time at SHSU.

As chair of the organization, Yarabeck said one of the strongest functions of the group is the get help to students who are having suicidal tendencies as well as addressing students with other mental illnesses.

“It also could be [that] they could have depression, not taking their medication that’s been prescribed, sometimes recreational drug use, things like that where students find themselves, for whatever purpose, starting to spiral out of control,” Yarabeck said. “Our job is to intervene in whatever means is appropriate.”

According to Yarabeck, about five years ago the SOC team was able to successfully prevent a student who empathized with the Columbine High School shooters from potentially replicating the shooting at SHSU’s campus as the student had threatened. Yarabeck said the student had created a website called “Sympathy for the Columbine Shooters” on which he posted “I really hope I can get the courage up next week to do what they did at Columbine here at Sam Houston.”

To prevent the incident from unfolding, the student was contacted and the plans were intervened by SOC. The student’s parents were contacted, and the student resigned from SHSU.

“I think it’s very likely given the way that he was spiraling out of control, that he could have gone on and actually done something, or at least attempted to do something,” Yarabeck said.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, most active-shooter incidents occur in small- and medium-sized communities where police departments are limited by budget constraints and small workforces. In addition, 98 percent of the time the offender is a single shooter, 97 percent of the time they are male and in 40 percent of the cases, the offender kills himself.

Yarabeck said he pictures campus shooters and individuals who become a threat to the university as loners and have a history of victimization and are looking to find reciprocation.

“There is no profile of a campus shooter; they can be from wealthy environments, poor environments, they can have high self-esteem, low self-esteem, etc.,” Yarabeck said.

Students are more likely to get hit by lightning than to be a victim of a campus shooter, according to Steve Shields, SHSU’s director of Environmental Health and Safety and Risk Management.

“It seems like with each passing year, we tend to get more of these incidents, even around here,” Yarabeck said. “I think it’s a mistake to say that this happens so frequently because when you take into account that there’s over 3,000 colleges and universities nationwide, and that doesn’t even include the online ones, you might have one or two of these incidents a year on average, sometimes more.

One of the reasons Yarabeck said he thinks school shootings occur has to do with a generation that is “desensitized” from video games.

According to an article in Mother Jones magazine, although many mass shooters have been associated with violent video games, their actions have more to do with complex mental-health problems. Specifically, Columbine shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold both had a history with mental illness, which has been well-documented.

Robin Johnson, Ph.D., who specializes in video game research, said the academic literature examining connections between video games and violence or aggression has never been able to establish causality.

“A few psychological studies have found statistically meaningful links between playing video games and aggression, and other studies have not. A causal link between the two is a popular misconception,” he said.

To date there have been no school shooters nationwide that have been intervened on by a Students of Concern Team or the Behavioral Intervention Team, according to Yarabeck.  

“That’s the whole point of the Students of Concern Team because we rely on students, faculty and staff to be our eyes and ears,” Yarabeck said. “If they notice someone who’s acting a little strangely or getting depressed, instead of trying to handle it themselves, they can work with us and let us know what’s going on so that we can help them to get the help that they need, usually through the counseling center or psychologists and getting parents involved.”

Editor's Note: Johnson is the advisor to the Houstonian.

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