The Looming Dangers of School Threats

#icanhelp educate community outreach digital citizenship digital safety Mar 20, 2024
The Looming Dangers of School Threats | Digital4Good

By: Elliot Nelson, Seasonal Public Relations Intern | Digital4Good


An unfortunate label that America and its schools have been branded with is a nation where “school shootings and threats are rampant.” While this is a gross misrepresentation and generalization of issues in American education, school violence — especially gun violence — is a major threat facing schools today.


Tragedies like the Sandy Hook Elementary and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High shootings have gained widespread media attention, but they are far from being the only ones. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, there have been 392 school shootings across the United States. To illustrate the need to revisit and reassess the stigma and policies around school threats, we’ve compiled the following firsthand accounts from individuals affected by the threat of gun violence on school campuses. 


Student Stories

[Trigger Warning - There will be references to violence, death, and guns]


“The Threat of the Unknown”

“It was a day in November, I think, and I remember being in a class that was in one of the buildings on campus that was central and that had a lot of the classes that most people were in, so it was pretty packed that day. I was in my Digital Media Strategies class, and I remember suddenly getting a notification from one of the group chats I was in that said, ‘Just heard from someone that they say someone with a gun on campus.’


I kind of shrugged it off because I feel like you see stuff like that everyday, and it seems kind of impossible, or like someone was making it up for drama. It wasn’t until the same message was spammed in three other group chats that I was in that I finally began to be alarmed. I also knew it was bad because our professor began to look freaked out, as a classmate just told him about the situation.


I have to admit, we kind of freaked out. All of the training and protocol from administration that we had learned in a class freshman year was gone. Some people were shouting and running about, and I was just kind of in shock. Eventually, the professor managed to get us all back together and in control, and then, he just went to lock the door. He then asked for us to sit quietly in the classroom, as he switched the lights off. I swear, we were practically [...] ourselves from fear.


At this time, and if I remember correctly, it was around 45 minutes or so after I got that first text that we then got a text from our university messaging system about the threat. It said, ‘There’s an armed individual on campus with a firearm; be careful.’  To me, that was terrifying because it meant that the college was just now getting wind of this, and so many people could already be in danger at this point.


The next thirty minutes were so scary, because it felt like this scary kind of silence that something bad could happen any minute. At the end though, I got a text again from one of the group chats that the ‘armed individual’ was a sixteen-year-old kid skating through on his skateboard with a realistic-looking toy gun. Obviously, we were annoyed but relieved because it could have been real danger, but it made me rethink how safe I felt on campus.” 


What We Can Learn

Students should receive immediate alerts of threats on campus. Messaging systems like the one mentioned in this student’s account are effective if they can provide instantaneous updates on the status of a situation. When information is not disseminated quickly enough by a standardized system, social media can easily distort the facts or spread outdated information.


The professor in the student’s story, and presumably all school personnel, had been trained on the protocol for handling potentially harmful situations. Despite the students’ initial panicked reaction to the threat, the professor was able to gain control of the situation and provide guidance to students.


Protocols like ALICE, which stands for Alert | Lockdown | Inform | Counter | Escape, are enforced in K-12 schools to prepare students for the possibility of an armed shooter entering their school. Although the school in the story is a postsecondary institution, it is nevertheless advisable that all schools implement these or similar procedures to ensure that students and staff are prepared in the event of a physical threat. It is also recommended that schools reevaluate their emergency communication methods to ensure their efficiency and timeliness.



“I showed up at the school library because I wanted to do extra studying because it was the week before finals. And then we got these messages from [school messaging system] that there was a school shooter.


To us, it was like a forgotten backpack. We heard the messages but kind of disregarded them because it just didn’t seem real. And then we got another message: there were shots reported in the business building. Then the alarms started blaring, and that’s when it became serious.


I was with three of my friends, and we didn’t really know what to do, so we were kind of freaking out. We found a study room upstairs, and we were in there for four hours, because SWAT was evacuating people one building at a time. There was a lot of frustrating miscommunication, because someone was telling their professor something and other professors were telling their students elsewhere.


Later, we found out that the shooter had been a professor at another college who had tried to get a job at our school unsuccessfully, and came back to take revenge on the professors of the school he didn’t get into. This resulted in two professors dying and one who is still hospitalized right now. We also saw the security footage of the shooter walking out of the student union, and we saw him walking to the student union (a central hub of activity), where he was gunned down by police, so it could’ve been me or my peers next. It was really surreal, because I had a lot of friends that were supposed to be in the business building at that time, so it was scary not knowing where my friends were.


When we were allowed to leave, there was an instance where we were supposed to go down the library escalator with our hands up, and one person who didn’t speak English didn’t understand, so they forced people to get down as if he had a weapon. 


The aftermath of that was wide-sweeping. Finals became optional: pass or fail in light of the tragedy. Students were unable to get into their dorms for three days after the event, because police wanted to sweep each dorm to ensure all potential threats were removed, as per their protocol. 


In reflection, I think the school shooting was made so much worse for us because of miscommunication. There was so much uncertainty, as constant announcements were sent out with contradictory information that left us in a constant state of terrified anticipation. Despite how horrible the event was, the community rallied around the campus, providing immeasurable support and resources, especially the professors we lost by starting GoFundMes for funeral and hospital costs.”


What We Can Learn

Strong, consistent communication is the foundation of effective emergency response. When students and staff are bombarded by contradictory messages, they become confused and disoriented and can inadvertently put themselves or others in danger. By managing the flow of information through consistent messaging, administration can ensure students and staff are equipped with accurate information.


This student’s story demonstrates the power of community in the healing and recovery process. In addition to the fundraisers created by community members, the school itself led a vigil in honor of the three professors who were injured or killed in the attack. It is incredibly important to recognize those lost in a tragedy, honoring their legacy and their impacts on the community and world. 


Strong communication and community support both play an integral part in the response to and recovery from school violence.


What Can Be Done?

As demonstrated in the two stories, there is a growing fear of armed intruders in schools across the country. Acknowledging gun violence as a real threat and setting contingency plans to address it are the first steps to combating school violence. Protocols like the aforementioned ALICE program provide students and staff with important safety training. 


Another recommendation is evaluating the physical safety and security of school buildings and grounds. The shooter who attacked Robb Elementary School, for instance, reportedly entered through a malfunctioning door. Screening or check-in procedures can greatly reduce the risk of armed intruders entering a school building or campus. By investigating the integrity and security of school entrances on a regular basis, administrators can help ensure the safety of students and staff. For added safety, background checks should be mandatory for all new hires. Extra security measures, like advanced cameras or a roaming hall monitor, will help you keep a close eye on various parts of the school at all times.



Have a plan for your school when dangers and threats arise. Download Digital4Good’s Social Media Emergency Plan for free today.




Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.