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'We can't ignore it': State experts share tools, resources to prevent targeted violence

Texas School Shooting
Posted at 10:58 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 11:12:53-04

DENVER — Colorado is no stranger to the horrors of mass shootings, which have propelled state leaders and targeted violence experts to make grassroots and legislative changes.

"I think everyone needs some level of awareness around the pathway to violence, how do you know when someone is moving towards potentially hurting others," said Dr. Rachel Nielsen of Nicoletti-Flater Associates, a Lakewood-based group specializing in targeted violence prevention

Mass shootings happen so frequently in the United States, Nielsen and others have dedicated their lives to trying to thwart them.

The most recent tragedy unfolded in Texas on Tuesday. Ten days prior, a mass shooting happened inside a grocery store in one of Buffalo, New York's predominately Black communities.

"Oftentimes, when there's one shooting, then it does incite others who were considering it to go ahead and attack," Nielsen said.

Thanks to federal grant money, Nielsen and other experts have been teaching first responders, educators and mental health providers in Colorado about the warning signs that often precede a violent attack.

"Awareness and competency. So awareness among everyone and competency among professionals about how to deal with these issues, when you see warning signs, when you need to involve someone beyond yourself," Nielsen said. "That's when you build a system that is sustainable."

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser sees violence prevention as a community effort.

"Because of what we've gone through in Colorado, not with just one school shooting in Columbine, but other ones recently — the STEM School — we've had to adapt. We've had to create a culture around school safety, we've had to create early warning systems," Weiser said. "Because of those systems, we are safer in Colorado."

Nonetheless, Weiser knows the state is not immune. In an interview with Denver7, he urged the continued use of Safe2Tell, a state program that allows students, parents and community members to report threats or concerns anonymously

"What we've learned again and again is when someone makes a threat that they're going to go into a school and shoot people, we can't ignore it," Weiser said.

In April, the program received about 1,900 reports, a 4% increase from the month before.

Colorado also has a red flag law. Passed in 2019, the law allows people to ask the court to temporarily take away a person's firearms if there is a significant risk of the person hurting themselves or others.

According to a published report and a public records requests filed by Denver7, from 2020 through Oct. 2021, nearly 200 red flag petitions were granted.

"If you know of a threat to violence, you've got a responsibility to do something," Weiser said.