With the memory of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida still fresh in American minds, discussion of hardening our schools as targets for killers has once again become a hot issue. People argue over disarming NRA members, arming teachers or administrators, bringing more cops into the schools, and installing high-tech devices to keep students safe should a rare school shooting occur.
But there are other related issues that two police officers have decided to tackle. C.J. Renaud, a retired Aurora police officer who served as a school resource officer at a city high school, along with her partner, Officer Jake Bunch, have been working hard to stop students from becoming radicalized by terrorist groups or showing up at school as an active shooter.
Back when they were still on duty, Renaud and Bunch were attending one of their twice-weekly morning meetings at the high school when FBI agents arrived to speak with them. The agents told the officers about three female Aurora teens radicalized online and recruited by ISIS. German police intercepted them when their plane from the U.S. arrived in Germany on its way to the Middle East. They were returned to their parents in Colorado.
As a school resource officer, dealing with high school students just like these three (though they did not attend Renaud’s assigned high school), she felt she should know how overseas terrorist organizations persuade American teenagers to take up their cause.
Renaud and Bunch made themselves gurus. They talked to subject matter experts. Identified the reasons kids fall prey to terrorists’ social media tactics. They even took classes from the Department of Homeland Security. From the information they acquired, they gleaned the essential points, put together a presentation, and hit the road. They have now given their valuable presentation to schools around the country at least 50 times.
The officers learned that people become radicalized easier than folks might believe. Just think about the three high school classmates agreeing to travel to the Middle East to serve the most infamous and violent terrorist organization on the planet.
The girls conspired to join ISIS: They planned the trip, bought plane tickets, packed their luggage, went to the airport, and actually boarded a plane for the Middle East. If not for a stop in Europe, the girls might have been successful. Also, in Renaud’s area, in 2009, an Aurora resident, Najibullah Zazi, accumulated the chemicals he needed to construct an explosive device he planned on using to bomb a New York City subway train.
Renaud found that clever terrorists have learned to exploit their target’s vulnerabilities. For a young person, especially one marginalized by myriad adolescent circumstances, to even express an initial interest in aiding terrorists, they would likely be psychologically malleable. Renaud said she doesn’t want to focus entirely on foreign terrorist organizations because domestic terrorism, including school shooters, can be just as dangerous.
As an example, she brings up Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the mass murdering partners in the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The pair embraced their own form of domestic terrorism and the results were deadly. She says the two boys created their own ideology and embraced it due to their vulnerabilities. I don’t think this analysis takes anything away from the evil they perpetrated, but it is important we try to understand their motivations. That’s what Renaud is trying to do—so schools can prevent similar future crimes.
According to The Tribune, Renaud said, “Imagine if we had looked at Klebold and Harris’ notebooks. Imagine if we had that knowledge at the front end.”
The encouraging aspect of this story is that many school administrators are being proactive rather than only reactive in preparing to engage vulnerable and misguided students. These school officials are always looking for resources to help them prevent or preempt these crimes, which are tragedies for the community and which also affect the entire country.
Renaud and Bunch, and people like them, have taken it upon themselves to become those crucial resources. School teachers and administrators can use them to make their schools and students safer. These cops are exemplary examples of American police officers’ commitment to their communities and country. They are men and women willing to go that extra measure to allow people to pursue their happiness to its fullest.