Since Keller secondary schools began airing a public service announcement in the fall urging students to tell an adult if they learn of a threat of violence, district officials have seen a significant uptick in reports.
The PSA is intended to alert authorities of threats such as those made by the accused gunman in Wednesday's deadly shooting at a Florida high school. The suspect, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, had posted multiple threats and disturbing photos on social media, according to reports.
"When you have a tragedy like this, students actually connect the dots," said Kevin Kinley, the Keller school district director of safety and security. "We're seeing our kids come forward more than ever."
So far in the 2017-18 school year, district officials and law enforcement have learned of 18 potential threats; last year, they had 10. Kinley said not all of them are threats of shootings. Some are plans for suicide or other potentially dangerous issues.
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Earlier this year, students came forward to report a murder-suicide pact involving a Keller district high school student. The young man had threatened to kill other students, his parents and himself. The threat assessment team went into action and the student and his family received help from mental health professionals.
Kinley said he got a call just last week from the principal at that school.
"He said, 'I'm so glad we have this process in place because we got this kid some help,'" Kinley said. "This kid is doing so much better."
Without those students speaking up, Kinley is not sure how the situation would have played out.
Keller's threat assessment protocol is designed to stop violence before it’s too late, provide help to the troubled student and keep track of the student as long as he or she is in the school system or is deemed no longer a threat.
Once officials learn of a possible threat, a campus team consisting of the school resource officer, a counselor and an assistant principal compile an online report, which goes to Kinley's office. If the threat is serious enough, a student could be arrested or immediately removed from school.
If a student remains on campus or returns after a disciplinary placement or treatment, the campus team helps the student and family get services while monitoring the young person. In the case of the Florida shooting that left 17 dead, the suspect had been expelled from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., for "disciplinary reasons."
Kinley said school resource officers and local law enforcement can intervene if they learn of an outside threat.
The important message is to remain vigilant, especially with threats on social media.
"We want to be as proactive as possible," he said. "A lot of these kids are reaching out for help. They're giving us these signals, whether it's suicide or violence."
Kinley said the "Break the Silence" PSA message — “If you see it, if you hear it, don’t spread it. Report it.” — is "right on time for this day and age. "
"We want to get our hands on these students to get them help."