Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was murdered in the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, says he’s seeing disturbing similarities between that heinous crime and the shooting in Oxford, Michigan. Even worse, as Petty explains on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, he believes both tragedies could have been prevented if the right school policies had been in place and practiced.
The biggest failure in Oxford, at least in Petty’s view, is the fact that it was left up to a school counselor to deal with the suspect and his parents after a teacher had alerted school staff to a disturbing drawing made by the suspect the morning of the shooting. That drawing, coming on the heels of the suspect getting caught searching for ammunition while in class the day before, was cause enough for the deputy stationed at the school to check out the suspect’s backpack and locker to ensure that he didn’t have any weapons on him, but that never happened.
Petty says that the school should and could have conducted a behavioral threat analysis of the student in question, which also would have likely involved the deputy stationed at the school, or perhaps other members of law enforcement.
“These behavioral warning signs require a coordinated effort. It should have been school officials, it should have been law enforcement, and counselors all together as a behavioral assessment team,” Petty tells me. “Had that happened, that’s why I say this could have been and should have been prevented. But that didn’t happen here.”
Petty went on to say that, unfortunately, many other school districts would likely have handled this case in much the same way.
“Many school districts fight back against the notion of sharing information with particularly law enforcement. They don’t want to share information. They view it, as what opponents of law enforcement in schools call the school to prison pipeline, claiming it unfairly targets minority students. There’s clear evidence that refutes those claims,. However, law enforcement here, I think, participating in those discussions, would have come to a different conclusion. And that conclusion would have been, ‘You know, I’m just gonna search. This is disturbing behavior, what he said and what he has done, and I’m gonna search his bag, I’m gonna search his locker. And that posture might have changed the attitude of the parents.”
Petty isn’t demanding new gun control laws in the wake of the Oxford High School shooting. Instead, he’s hoping that the same parents who’ve been flocking to their local school boards to push back against mask mandates and the teaching of Critical Race Theory in classrooms will start to apply the same kind of pressure on school boards to keep their kids safe.
“They should be asking, ‘I want to understand the disciplinary policy at your school, I want to understand if you’ve implemented behavioral threat assessment as a school safety measure and what’s your policy on that, and I want to understand whether or not there’s law enforcement present at my child’s school’. And they should be advocating for those three things; tell me what your disciplinary policy is and how it’s implemented, tell me do we have a behavioral threat assessment policy and is it implemented in all of our schools, and is there a law enforcement presence in those behavioral threat assessment teams and on campus?”
Ryan Petty has spent countless hours since his daughter’s murder learning from and working with law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal level to try to prevent these types of attacks from happening, and he says that the school district did do some things correctly. The teacher said something when they discovered the suspect’s disturbing note. The district locked down classrooms quickly, preventing the suspect from gaining entry. There was a law enforcement officer on scene who was able to quickly respond.
But Petty believes there were points of failure as well, and those same weaknesses are structurally present in a lot of policies and practices of school districts around the country. The good news is that these policies can be changed, but it’s not likely to happen without parents taking the lead in demanding real reforms that can identify and address threats to students and staff before these murderous plans can be put into action.