NAPLES, Fla. — The suspect in the Illinois parade shooting is 22 years old. The Uvalde mass shooting suspect was just 18. And Southwest Florida law enforcement say kids even younger have been arrested for posting threats of violence online. This has a lot of parents asking what they can do if they notice signs of violence in their child or other kids. What are actionable steps you can take if you have concerns?
"The worst thing that we can do is just ignore it," Lt. Leslie Weidenhammer with the Collier County Sheriff's Office said.
She said if you see something on a child's social media, hear a conversation or notice a behavior that raises a concern, do not keep it a secret.
"Talk to someone professional to determine what is the best course of action here to prevent something terrible happening," Lt. Weidenhammer said.
Nancy Dauphinais, the Chief Operating Officer of the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health in Naples, said to turn to whoever you're most comfortable with: someone at your child's school, law enforcement, a mental health professional, or even a pediatrician.
"We have to take all talk of violence seriously. There is no talk of violence that can be ignored or minimized," Dauphinais said.
The David Lawrence Centers and the Collier County Sheriff's Office work closely together, and with Collier County Public Schools.
"We get together and we discuss trends or things that are going on that we need to be made aware of. But beyond those meetings, we can pick up the phone and talk to someone at any day or night, 365, 24/7," Lt. Weidenhammer said.
Here's an example: Let's say you see a child posting about violence online, or photos of a weapon.
"You may think that the risk is minimal, or that the threat is limited. Maybe you don't have firearms or ammunition in your home. But it is not easy to know what your children have access to and every other setting that they're involved in," Dauphinais said.
She said you can call the David Lawrence Centers to talk about it.
"We will work with our mental health team and our bureau at the sheriff's office. We'll involve the youth resource deputies. We'll involve the psychologists and mental health professionals at the school, to make sure that we can develop the best plan for assessing and responding to any potential threat or risk for violence," she said.
When that information gets sent over to the sheriff's office, Lt. Weidenhammer said prevention becomes the number one goal.
"And then identification and evaluate, and then refer if we need to refer," she said. "We're going to come and evaluate, and we're going to bring someone with us, such as a counselor that may co-respond with us. Then we can at least sit down and say, 'Hey, what's going on here?'"
Then refer them to any help they may need.
"It doesn't mean that we're always going to respond and take somebody, walk them out of the house into the back of a patrol car," Lt. Weidenhammer said.
In fact, she said that's their last goal. She said preventing horrific tragedies like what happened in Uvalde, Texas or Highland Park, Illiniois starts with you; don't wait for someone else to report something concerning.
"A lot of times, folks don't want to come forward. It's like 'Oh, I don't want that person mad at me.' Well, I will tell you that my philosophy on a lot of that is: I'd rather step on somebody's toes than walk on graves," Lt. Weidenhammer said.
Dauphinais said parents should talk to their kids, ask questions, and create an encouraging environment so they can share anything that might be happening.
"Asking questions in an open way, in a non-judgmental way. There can be a lot of emotion and fear and just judgment associated with these kinds of conversations. And so it can make kids afraid to say anything," she said. "That doesn't mean we're condoning behaviors that are very dangerous. But we want to create an environment where kids can feel free to share difficult information with a trusted adult."
If you're worried about a kid harming themselves or others, you can call the David Lawrence Centers for Behavioral Health 24/7 at (239) 455-8500