See something, say something: Anonymous tip lines successful in stopping possible school threats, attackers

Research shows 81% of the time, a K-12 school attacker is going to tell someone their intention before it happens

ROANOKE, Va. – School districts around the country are working to beef up security measures.

“Anytime a tragedy happens, like Uvalde, Texas, everybody wants to do something, and gadgets are not going to help us,” said Chris Perkins, Roanoke City Public Schools’ Chief Operations Officer.

This school year, safety of students is top of mind more than ever. That’s why school systems like Roanoke City are having to rethink the way they do things.

“We’ve got to create ways to build relationships and trust. But most importantly, we got to create ways that if I do see something, I need an avenue to say something so I don’t take ridicule or bullying, because I may have told on another person,” Perkins said.

The school system is expanding the bullying hotline. Now students, parents or anyone in the community can call to report anything -- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year.

“The research tells us, Secret Service and Department of Education conducted this research, tells us that the K-12 school attacker in approximately 81% of the time is going to tell someone their intention, and approximately 59% of the time that school attacker will tell more than one person,” Perkins said.

Perkins went on to say this doesn’t replace other school safety features, but just adds to what they’re doing. If it’s an immediate issue, 911 will be contacted.

“But if it’s something that, you know, ‘I saw something that’s odd, that individual, they’re generally very happy, but there’s something wrong,’ we can take that information and work with because a lot of the times there’s commonalities with school attackers, there is no specific profile,” Perkins said.


A tip line is something Roanoke County Public Schools already had in place. Assistant Superintendent of Administration Dr. Rhonda Stegall said they’ve prevented suicides and potentially worse.

“There’s been several things that we think that could have potentially taken a path of violence, but maybe we derailed that before it got there,” Stegall said.

They’ve been telling students for years, that if you see something or hear something -- say something. It’s been so successful, that other school systems across the country have used the same poster Roanoke County is using.

Other school systems across the country have used this same poster that Roanoke County Public Schools started using years ago. (Courtesy: Roanoke County Public Schools)

With the increase in social media use, Roanoke County is emphasizing not sharing threatening posts.

“What happens there, when we start our investigation, it gets a little bit fuzzy because we’re not sure who originated the post. So the people who repost actually become part of our investigation because we have to go through all those reposts to get to the person who actually originally posted,” Stegall said.

Instead of sharing on social media, report it.

“When we do threat assessments, we will ask our students, you know, ‘Did you hear anything about,’ ‘Oh, yeah, I saw it. I heard it. I didn’t think they were serious. He does that stuff all the time.’ So it’s getting past that hesitancy to report,” Stegall said. “The concern here is you could be saving the lives of many people.”

Both school districts stress this isn’t about getting people in trouble, this is about getting students the support they need if something is going on and they need help.

This story is part of “Solutionaries.” Solutions offer hope and that’s the belief of Solutionaries, a show from our parent company, Graham Media Group, focusing on those who are taking on some of our biggest challenges. Each episode focuses on effective responses to problems and offers viewers ways they can join the effort for positive change.

About the Author:

You can see Jenna weekday mornings at the anchor desk on WSLS 10 Today from 5-7 a.m. She also leads our monthly Solutionaries Series, where we highlight the creative thinkers and doers working to make the world a better place.