Putting It Together: A Case Study on Identifying Actions for Prevention

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The objective of this case study is to demonstrate how lessons from a mass shooting can increase the likelihood of preventing similar violent scenarios. The mass shooting described in this case study is hypothetical but is based on real-world incidents.

To accomplish this objective, review the case description, the discussion questions that follow, and the possible interventions and evaluate whether and how they might be appropriate to use, the legality of the interventions, and how they might be adopted in your jurisdiction.

Run down all leads, reach out to partners, keep in touch with person of concern, embrace a critical thinking mindset, and do not completely dismiss anything. Then re-assess on a regular schedule or when new key data come in.

Case Description

Mass Shooting Known Facts: Warren Jackson was a 20-year-old former employee of a car rental agency. On May 21, 2020, he returned to the facility from which he had been terminated four months earlier and opened fire on employees around the staff lunch table. He used a pistol he apparently purchased legally two months previously. After shooting the branch manager and six other employees, he turned the gun on himself and died by suicide. Jackson's mother had called 911 three months before the shooting to request a wellness check on her son after she overheard him threaten suicide. She became concerned because Jackson had a rifle and sounded very depressed, and she feared he might kill himself. The responding police placed her son in custody under the state's Red Flag law, which provides for a 72-hour mental health "hold" to determine a subject's possible intent to harm himself or others. However, Jackson was released because he was not found to be mentally ill. With that finding, a Red Flag provision enabled Jackson to petition for a return of the confiscated firearm; however, he chose not to file for its retrieval. Jackson's decision to relinquish his weapon left the police with the impression that any feared violence, including Jackson's suicide, had been neutralized.

About one month later, Jackson visited a local gun dealer and completed an application to purchase a new handgun. Within 48 hours, his application was approved after the FBI found that Jackson had no disqualifying factors in his background—neither a mental institution commitment nor a conviction. Without those disqualifying factors, Jackson completed the firearm purchase and bought 100 rounds of ammunition. After the May 21, 2020, mass shooting, police reported that Jackson's mother told them that she did not know why Jackson was released after the 72-hour mental health hold. In the weeks following his release and until the day of the killings, he continued to mumble to himself about suicide. His mother overheard such comments as "nothing has changed—I've got to leave this world." Although his mother remained worried about the continuing decline of her son's mental state and his legal purchase of the new gun, she felt that calling the police again would not help. She felt that the police might not come to the house, and if they did, they would likely fail to remove the gun. Jackson's mother did nothing further.

Discussion Questions

  1. Is there a local or regional messaging campaign that encourages citizens who are aware of a harmful situation to report it to police via 911 or a special "See Something . . . Say Something" telephone number, e-mail address, app, and/or website? Does that campaign provide guidance and examples of what to report?
  2. By July 2022, there will be one nationwide emergency phone number (988) to report a potential suicide or mental health crisis situation, which will then be channeled to a local response capability. How much preparation has there been in your jurisdiction to prepare resources for the new suicide/crisis line to respond to citizens in need, and are there plans and policies in place to determine the violence potential for citizens believed to be at risk?
  3. Many jurisdictions are adopting Mobile Crisis Teams (MCTs) to provide mental health emergency services to citizens in behavioral crises. Does your jurisdiction have an MCT capability, and, if so, does it coordinate its activities as much as possible with police Crisis Intervention Teams, which are deployed to prevent violence or other harmful conduct?
  4. If police or emergency medical services personnel in your jurisdiction conduct wellness or welfare checks of residents in a possible condition to inflict harm and the responding personnel find that harm might be inflicted, are there provisions for the agency to self-initiate follow-up visits to determine whether the resident remains at risk? Are there provisions to refer residents to mental health or other needed social services, and, if so, how does follow-up occur?
  5. If your state has a Red Flag law that enables public safety authorities to seek an Extreme Risk Protection Order, do the law's provisions allow police to confiscate a firearm if they believe that a subject is capable of causing imminent harm?
  6. Whether your state has a Red Flag law or not, are police allowed to seize a firearm and/or take a citizen into custody for transport to a hospital for a mental evaluation if the citizen provides evidence of suicidal intent?

Possible Prevention Options That Might Help Address This Case and Others Like It

TLOs: The TLO movement started with the creation of the position as a specialized mode of fusion centers and police departments. Its role evolved after such mass casualty events as mass shootings validated the need for a broadened definition of public safety threats. The prevalence of mental health problems evident in the histories of mass shooters suggests that the TLO concept can be expanded to incorporate mental crises with risks of resulting violence.

Wellness Checks and Encouraging Voluntary Surrender of Firearms: A small number of law enforcement agency representatives in our interviews reported success in conducting wellness checks with subjects who police felt were at risk to commit violence but who were entitled to keep their firearms. They noted that subjects expressed appreciation that police cared enough about their well-being and safety to urge them to turn their firearms over to police; some even reported that those positive encounters were among the first occasions that someone unknown to them expressed concern about the value of their lives.

Conditions Under Which Legally Purchased Firearms Can Be Seized Later: If any one of a number of prohibitions specified in federal firearms law (18 U.S.C. 922(g)) occurs, the subject can be arrested and the firearm can be confiscated under administrative asset seizure provisions and later forfeited. For example, the subject of a Red Flag extreme risk protection order who later obtains a firearm violates one provision of the noted law, and an individual who has been convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence likewise violates the federal law. The ATF currently enforces this law (ATF, 2020). In several local jurisdictions, the ATF works with local police through task forces and other arrangements to bring federal charges and remove firearms to combat gang violence, terrorism, and other serious problems.