Arapahoe Shooting Report Highlights Flaws in District’s Threat Assessment Process

Report concludes there were missed opportunities that might have prevented the death of Claire Davis.

Investigators have released their review of how Arapahoe High School (AHS) and Littleton Public Schools (LPS) officials responded to threats by a student who shot and killed 17-year-old Claire Davis on Dec. 13, 2013. Their report concludes there were missed opportunities that might have prevented the death of Davis, although prior to the shooting, the district had expended considerable time and effort in emergency preparedness.

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The report, produced by Safe Havens International, says that LPS and its public safety partners had many preventive security measures in place before the AHS incident, including the deployment of School Resource Officers (SROs), an emergency planning committee, partnerships with city, local mental health professionals and other organizations to support the positive development of youth; an integrated security system and 32 Automated External Defibrillators (AED). The district’s elementary and middle schools were equipped with visitor management systems, and campus supervisors were trained in CPR and first aid. Additionally, the district had lighting sensors, staff dedicated to physical security and student supervision, as well as an anonymous tip line.

LPS employees and community members had received mental health prevention and intervention training, and there was a Redirection Center for expelled and at-risk students. There was a truancy review board, mental health support for middle school and high school students with disabilities; positive behavior intervention support; Crisis Prevention Intervention training; intervention programs for students; as well as a structured and formalized threat assessment process that is better than most.

“Despite the many preventive measures that were in place to help prevent school violence, the shooting incident at AHS still occurred,” the report says. “This demonstrates that extreme violence does sometimes happen at schools and school systems that have many sound preventive measures in place.”

The report did find, however, several opportunities for improvement in the district’s threat assessment process. At the time of the incident, there was no “integrated systems approach” to guide the process between LPS and its public safety partners. Additionally, the district and law enforcement did not use a systematic approach to guide the process at the schools.

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The sharing of information posed another challenge. The Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office (ACSO) was not provided access to disciplinary records of AHS students of concern, and AHS was not able to gain access to ACSO’s reports and records regarding incidents involving students at AHS. There was no memorandum of understanding (MOU) or intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between LPS and the ACSO regarding sharing information related to behavioral, criminal or disciplinary records of SLP students. Additionally, SROs were not provided with a copy of a completed threat assessment form.

Other challenges with the process at the time of the incident included:

  • The threat assessment process before the shooting focused more on establishing evidence
  • that the student of concern “made” a threat rather than on assessing if he or she posed a threat.

  • The “Building Team” that was responsible for initiating the threat assessment might not have had the professional knowledge and training to qualify them to make the decision on whether or not to conduct a threat evaluation of a student of concern.
  • Limited options for police response were listed on the assessment form.
  • The assessment form did not provide the threat assessment team with a prompt for any follow-up checks for the “additional measures to ensure safety.”
  • There was no defined multidisciplinary threat assessment team at AHS at the time of the incident. All three assessments were conducted by the school psychologist and assistant principal, and it appeared they didn’t receive appropriate training on the threat assessment process.
  • The threat assessors didn’t follow some of the procedures on the assessment and action plan form.
  • Often there was no explanation of the rationale for the decisions made in the assessment.
  • LPS didn’t provide schools with adequate resources to train staff on “how to recognize warning signs and what to do,” nor did it communicate some of its expectations to school-level staff.

Additionally, the report expresses concerns about the way the attacker was (or wasn’t) disciplined after he made his threats. School administrators had the option to suspend or expel him, but they did neither.

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“We were concerned to see from the case file that AHS administrators did not impose any formal disciplinary consequences for the aggressor after he made a threat to kill the school’s head librarian,” the report says. “While there is a pronounced trend in the field of K-12 education to reduce out of school suspensions and expulsions and request that police reduce arrests for behaviors like those exhibited by the aggressor in this case prior to December 13, 2013, it is important to note that at least thus far, multiple courts and juries have rejected these approaches as defenses for incidents where students carry out an act of violence after not being arrested, suspended and/or expelled for aggressive behaviors prior to the attack.”

Additionally, despite the district having many student mental health resources, the investigators couldn’t find any indications that the shooter had been referred to any of the programs.

Other areas of concern involving the investigation of the shooter before the attack include:

  • The deputy appears to not have taken the attacker’s threats seriously. He could have investigated further and interviewed the attacker about his threats and followed up by gathering information from his parents.
  • The attacker’s mother might not have reported her son’s threats to kill a female student to AHS administrators, the ASCO deputy or her son’s mental health providers.
  • Although LPS had promoted its Safe2Tell hotline, no student or staff reported the shooter’s threats to it despite three students being concerned about his behavior.

Other general areas of concern outlined in the report include:

  • School safety and security personnel shouldn’t have been eating lunch together at the same time. This left the campus unsupervised.
  • The attacker entered campus via an unsecured door that should have been locked. The door was propped open about once a week despite teachers and staff being instructed to always keep it closed.
  • School administrators were responsible for safety and security despite not having expertise in these areas, and the security director’s authority was limited.
  • LPS probably didn’t have a security assessment conducted by an outside team.
  • Many LPS policies, guidelines and procedures regarding school safety and security may hav
    e overwhelmed administrators in relation to other important responsibilities they have and the number of staff development sessions they are able to attend.
  • The security camera system was outdated.
  • AHS administrators may sometimes search students for drugs and knives without an armed security or law enforcement officer present.
  • The district’s lockdown planning approach at the time of the incident was reliant upon a flawed approach that resulted in confusion in areas of the school where staff could not hear gunfire during the incident. The report claims this resulted in a number of classroom doors not being locked. Had the aggressor decided to move to other areas of the school instead of proceeding to the library, this event could have easily turned into a mass casualty incident.

Despite the challenges highlighted in the report, the study’s authors praise the quick reactions of AHS custodian Fabian VIdrio Llerenas, head librarian Tracy Murphy, other AHS staff and students, as well as ACSO Deputy James Englert, who thwarted most of the aggressor’s overall attack plan. The report also praises the responding police officers for rapidly and effectively clearing AHS’ individual rooms, despite the fact that the campus is large.

Further, the study’s authors highlight some of the improvements implemented by the district since the tragedy, including the formation of safety and mental health advisory committee; more SROs for middle its schools and high schools; more than $800,000 for mental health staffing; a district-level multi-disciplinary threat assessment team for improved oversight of all threat assessments; and $365,000 in lock upgrades.

The report warns, however, that there are no absolute or simple solutions to planned K-12 campus shootings.

“The prevention of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from shooting incidents can be very complex and challenging,” the authors say. “There is no technology schools can purchase, no training program they can implement, no strategy they can employ, and no law we can pass that can end all school shootings.”

Read the full report.

Additional reports on this topic from the superintendent, University of Denver and University of Colorado can be found here.

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About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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