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Violence Project Seeks To Shift Focus From Reaction To Prevention In Mass Shootings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Jillian Peterson and James Densley are the founders behind the the Violence Project.

Peterson is a psychologist and a professor at Hamline University, and Densley is sociologist who teaches at Metropolitan State University. Through their research together, they have found mass shooters often have things in common.

In the days before a shooting, there's a marked changed in behavior and it's typically a suicidal crisis.

We spoke to Peterson when she arrived back at the MSP airport after appearing on CBS This Morning in New York Tuesday.

For the last two years the professor has dedicated much of her time to studying mass shooters.

"We started seeing these themes and put together four pieces based on that data," Peterson said.

The Violence Project data revealed common risk factors were early childhood trauma, a crisis point, access to weapons and finding people who validate their ideas.

"In the age of social media and the internet, that's a lot easier," Peterson said.

The research also revealed that there are things we can do to help. Peterson says just simply asking someone in a crisis if they're okay could present a red flag. Then it's about knowing who to go to if you do have concerns.

"To know who to contact, I think that is the responsibility of schools and workplaces to set up those protocols," Peterson said.

Finally, the study showed that mass shootings are socially contagious and suggests less attention should be put on those who commit the crimes.

Peterson says the goal of the study, which is not yet publicly available, is to shift from focusing on how to react to a mass shooting, to how to prevent one.

"Sure, you can put bigger more secure doors on, but the most likely person to do it is already in the building," Peterson said.

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