Understand the P in P.A.A.D. – An Intelligent Approach to Violent Attacks

Wednesday, February 14, 2018, Valentine’s Day, in a small urban community of Parkland, Florida, with a population of just over 28,000 people, another tragedy played out. It was in the afternoon at about 2:30 pm when Nikolas Cruz arrived at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where he would become the suspected shooter charged in an attack that is now said to be one of the ten deadliest mass shootings in modern US History.

Before I begin my discussion and viewpoints on this situation, I must prequalify my statements. This piece is not an attempt to market for profit the services my company, and I provide, nor is this a kneejerk reaction to include myself in the hysteria we are in today following an active shooter situation. In fact, I have traveled the United States to speak on critical incidents and dynamic violence situations as far back and before the Columbine School shootings

What I would like to focus my discussion with you on is the true manner we can prevent maybe not all, but many of these murders in our public and private facilities. To do this, I will need you to look past the media and political publicity, the emotional trauma and the focus of what was used to take the lives of the reported 17 adults and children. As you see, sensationalism is an acute response to a chronic issue and is not a cure for methodical acts of violence that started long before the actual act of violence takes place.

One does not have to look further than the television in their living room or the newspaper collected from their stoup, to see a large number of fragmented solutions to ongoing violence situations. Many years ago I recognized this and decided I needed to identify a manner we could consolidate these solutions into one sound program that will help protect our communities. To illustrate this in maybe a familiar way to you is the likeness of a computer. Fragmentation makes your hard disk do extra work that can slow down your computer. To correct this, or improve this situation, we must at times defragment through the Disk Defragmenter on our computer. The Disk Defragmenter rearranges packets of information, some of this information is current, and some of it may have been deleted or obsolete, but it rearranges the packets of information on our computer so our computer will run more efficiently, all providing a better computing experience. This is what we have done with active violence situations, we have taken fragmented information and rearranged it so the information may be identified more efficiently and readily in the buildup to an act of violence. Packets of information are cleaned, organized and finally analyzed so we may take or not take action or intercede on behalf of an individual.

The P.A.A.D. program encompasses many components that are categorized under the following: Prevent, Alert, Avoid and Defend. All though there are necessary steps in all four of these categories I would like to focus your attention on just two, Prevent and Alert. As we know, the safest way to fight a fire is to prevent it all together; such is the same with acts of violence, our safest course of action is to avoid the fight altogether.

So how do we avoid the fight that we do not see coming? The P.A.A.D. answer is an intelligent based risk approach that identifies precursors to an increase in the threat of someone committing an act of violence, red flags if you will. As I stated previously, other components of P.A.A.D. address the Vulnerabilities of our risk equation long before and at the outset of establishing your violence program.

The matrix we have established for approaching this from an intelligent based approach encompasses essential aspects of an individual’s life; these are, Personal Life & Mental Health, Digital/Social Life (Footprint), Work/School and Relationships. Often the acute response to a violent incident is for authorities to speak about some, if not all of these components, but in a fragmented manner. The fragmentation of this critical raw information is the challenge to all of us, and little thought or action has been taken in the past to centralize this raw information so it may be developed into actionable intelligence. This is what P.A.A.D. accomplishes for business, public schools and even communities as a whole, P.A.A.D. centralizes information that would otherwise not be captured.

I am going to use the Parkland Active Shooter incident as an illustration of what could have been discovered with centralized information that is vetted and qualified for actionable intelligence. This incident is just one of many real-world situations we have applied our methodology to and where we have discovered that the P.A.A.D. approach would have more than likely prevented an incident from occurring.


Relationships, or emotional distress within relationships, is one of the most common precursors to someone acting out violently. In this case, Cruz is found to have lost his father some ten years ago, and as recently as November 2017 he has lost his mother who was his last connected family member.

Work or School Behavior

Disciplinary issues are customarily found within individuals who find themselves in some form of personal trauma. Individuals will commonly act out in some fashion, be it tardiness, threats to associates or some other violation of commonly held rules of conduct. In any case, there will be a change in the standard patterns of behavior. In this case, the recognition of increased threat takes place when Cruz was expelled from school. In other scenarios such as an employment situation, it would be when a person has risen to the point of suspension or termination from work.

Digital and Social Life

When we look at the social or digital life of potential threat, we can find much of what is going on in their life, traumatic loss, anger or some other social issue. In the case of Cruz, it was blatant; he spelled out his desire that he wanted to take the lives of police, former schoolmates, and staff. The reason, in my experience, Cruz was so blatant about this is because he found himself secluded and alienated from others, first through the death of his mother and second through his expulsion from school.

In any case, the analytic tools readily available and used daily in other applications could have identified this through intelligence development.

Personal Life and Mental Health

Throughout my illustration of this case I have shown various points where mental health issues were identified, this is not always the rule, however. What is regularly prevalent is the personal habits and situations witnessed by individuals acquainted or known by the potential attacker. In the case of Cruz we know that as a result of changes in his normal life, the loss of his mother and the earlier loss of his father, he recently experienced a trauma spike that created a situation wherein he was found in seclusion.

We know through his school reports that he performed well in a structured atmosphere, being the JROTC program wherein he received awards in 2016. Again, this from these reports in 2016 to current time, we can see that a dramatic change took place. Through rational processes, this could have been identified as another red flag. Through human interaction and understanding, we can see that he excelled in the JROTC program, so what contrasted this with the other experiences in his life? Simply, the structure this program provided Cruz, a place where he could belong.

In the final analysis of preventing violent incidents and how P.A.A.D. works in preventing these incidents, I must disclose some additional information. In my experience, when all of these fragments of information are placed together we get a better view of what created the perfect storm for a violent act. Having said this, I cannot guarantee that all these pieces of information would have been gathered for the needs of quantification in identifying Cruz, particularly in the areas of personal interaction. The reason for this is due to the fact we need individuals who are aware of what to look for and who are willing to report these abnormalities in the suspected individuals’ behavior. However, if just 50% of this information were quantified we would have red flagged this individual for some form of intervention.

William Peeler is the founder and CEO of The Peeler Group, Inc. He has over 32 years of experience as a security and investigative professional, having consulted both government entities and private enterprise in the areas of threats and vulnerabilities. Contact: info@peeler-group.com


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