Michael Kulstad: As the frequency of active shooter incidents in the United States continues to rise, the FBI plays a key role in investigating and analyzing these events and supporting victims and working to help to stop the past from repeating itself.
On this episode of Inside the FBI, we'll discuss the FBI's annual report on active shooter incidents. The most recent edition just came out. And we'll also talk about the FBI's role in investigating these events and preventing future attacks. Finally, we'll talk about how the Bureau supports victims in the wake of these tragedies.
I'm Michael Kulstad, and this is Inside the FBI.
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Kulstad: According to the FBI, an active shooter event is an event in which one or more people are actively engaged in using a firearm to kill or try to kill people in a populated area. Our annual active shooter report looks at how many of those events occur each year, as well as how many people are killed or injured in these incidents.
The FBI's Office of Partner Engagement, in coordination with the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center at Texas State University, just released the 2022 edition of this report. Now, as far as what the FBI looked at, we used internal FBI data, available law enforcement reports, and public reporting. We use these sources because, as the report describes, there is no mandated database or collection or central intake point for an active shooter instance like there is for other crimes.
Now, we know where the data comes from. Let's look at what it told us for 2022.
Kulstad: According to the report, 50 active shooter incidents occurred in 2022, killing 100 people and wounding 213. Now that's down 18% from 2021. But soberingly, the report showed that active shooter incidents are still generally trending upward: 67% since 2018, it stated. The report also looks at casualties: those killed or wounded.
In 2022, there were 313 casualties; that’s 100 killed and 213 people wounded. And that's up from the previous year, where there were 243 casualties and 103 people killed and 140 wounded.
You can read the full 35-page report at fbi.gov. But for now, let's try to make sense of those numbers and what it can tell us. For that, I'd like to bring in Joe Perez. He's the deputy assistant director for the FBI's Criminal [Investigative] Division. Joe, welcome to the podcast.
Joe Perez: Good morning. Thank you.
Kulstad: Now, we went through the numbers. What stands out for you?
Perez: Really, the … when you look at the number of incidences and the casualty count, both are trending upwards in the last five years. So specifically last year, while the, the number of individual incidents went down, the overall casualty count went up, which is significant. But over the last five years, the number of incidents continues to trend upwards, and the number of people affected by this—either fatalities or injured in these events—those numbers continue to go up.
That's of significant concern. That's reason to continually, to continue engagement by law enforcement for us to really stay engaged in these events and research and provide these types of reports. Really for, for any victim who's lived through this—either survived an event or a family member of someone who has—one incident is enough. So the fact that these events continue to occur and that they're trending upwards is of significant concern.
Additionally, when you look at the numbers, there was almost an even split where there were nine incidences where law enforcement had direct engagement with the shooter. There were eight incidences where a citizen or a victim who was going through this event had interaction with the shooter. So that just brings additional need and importance and awareness to the general public on how these events occur and what we can learn from them.
Kulstad: Now, the report doesn't necessarily look at the why: why numbers are up or why numbers are down. But I want to talk about the what for the person who sees these shootings on the news. Talk about the FBI's response and, most importantly, what are we doing to try to change these trends?
Perez: So, the first thing, I think, for the general public to understand is, what is the FBI's role here? Many of these incidents occur, and the FBI will respond to support our local partners, and, and it'll be reported that the FBI is there. But the question a lot of times is, “What exactly is the FBI there to do?”
You know, number one, we have a commitment to protect the citizens of the United States. So we do that through a variety of ways and various investigative programs. But a big part of that is our partnership with local law enforcement. There's a significant public safety interest in each of these events.
So, what the FBI does is we offer assistance to local law enforcement in all types of critical incidents. So active shooters, mass casualty events is a significant event for a community, so the FBI is engaged with local law enforcement to really bring some type of support and resolution.
The first thing we're there to do is provide what we would refer to as a tactical type of assistance, meaning, through law enforcement action. Can we bring that scene safe? Can we bring some resolution to the community so that that scene is no longer active and that the citizens are safe from any further events or further violence?
After that, what we look for is, then, what we would get involved in is an investigative piece. So we want to try to understand and help local law enforcement for ourselves to understand what exactly happened and bring some type of, ultimately, some type of resolution or, at least, understanding or answers to the general public.
So while we're there to support our local partners, we're also looking, through an investigative lens to determine…well, was this event a terrorist attack? Was this driven by some type of terrorist-type ideology? Is this a hate crime? Is this something that involved an incident where someone did this in an effort to affect someone's race or religion? So we look at that under federal statutes for terrorism or hate crime.
We also try to look and see, can we … leverage another type of federal charge to really help bring this case to resolution and, and help keep our community safe? And if none of those answers play out, we're there to help our local law enforcement partners resolve the case in what would ultimately be a homicide investigation.
And through that, we continue—regardless of whether it's a terrorist attack or a hate crime—we continue to bring a number of resources to bear on these types of investigations, and that includes investigative agent personnel to help conduct interviews, help conduct kind of general investigative efforts, evidence collection through our Evidence Response Teams' analysis of other items collected, analysis of digital evidence, cell phones, videos, those kinds of things where we take a lot of time and effort and conduct tedious, really thorough reviews of, of evidence collected.
We provide laboratory assistance, if needed, for anything, any type of physical evidence and really other expertise that we might bring. For a local police department, this might be an incredible once-in-a-lifetime impactful event, and rightly so, that it really affects the community.
For the FBI, unfortunately, with the national scope, we're involved in, in some way, shape, or form in supporting many of these instances around the country, and we have been for several years. So with that, we can bring some level of expertise, some level of guidance potentially, uh, to really help a local law enforcement agency bring the situation to a conclusion.
And, and the last piece, and we'll talk a little bit more about that here in a minute, will be our victim services that just does an incredible job of helping the surviving victims of these events cope with such a traumatic experience.
Kulstad: So, Joe, you have a unique perspective on these types of events. You were in Las Vegas in 2017 where a gunman opened fire at the Harvest Festival. So many people died, hundreds injured. And you were the incident commander for the FBI, and you saw firsthand what that did to a community. Can you talk a little bit about that, and how that shaped that community and changed it?
Perez: Yeah, absolutely. You know, aside from being a law enforcement entity that's there to respond and do our job and what we were sworn to do. We are members of these communities that we serve. So an incident like the Las Vegas shooting, it's incredibly impactful. You had 22,000 people there—really 22,000 victims—that went … that were at the concert and suffered through this event in one way, shape, or form.
We are members of this community. We had employees who had families at the concert. We had people …really, everyone you talk to in Vegas—someone you know, friends or family—had someone there who experienced this. So really, we're affected by these events because we live in these communities that we serve. In the Vegas instance, we brought resources from all over the country to support. But really, the local office itself was affected tremendously by that, much like the community.
These events, like a Las Vegas or other similar instances—large or small—can have really a devastating effect and paralyze a community, striking fear into a population, where there’s shootings at schools or at any kind of public locations. This has a tremendous paralyzing effect on a community.
The healing part is significant, as well, in like in [a] situation like Las Vegas. It really galvanize[s] the community, and you see folks come together, both from a law enforcement perspective and just the general community. Coming together to help everyone heal. And really, law enforcement, too, in those instances. While everyone brings different area of expertise, different resources, what we like to say in a situation like this, in a critical incident, law enforcement will check their badge at the door, put whatever different resources we might have aside—or different concepts we have aside—to really just dig in and help the community cope and bring a resolution.
Kulstad: Final thing, I’d, I'd like to chat with you about is, let's talk about prevention. What can and should we look at to stop these events before they even start?
Perez: So this report, starting with our analysis here, this is an objective and factual analysis of these events. We draw out specific criteria to … try to identify what events we're looking at. And that's … this report reflects, really, just an objective, factual analysis of these incidences, with no conclusions drawn in any other situations or different reports. There could be different criteria, which might lead to different results.
The focus here for the FBI is to identify and understand what we would consider a mass casualty or targeted violence where the apparent goal was not to facilitate some other type of crime or financial gain. The goal there was really conduct an act of violence or mass violence. So, this report collects facts and draws out some statistics without drawing any types of conclusions.
Now, there's other avenues where the FBI spends a lot of effort in trying to understand what these events mean, with the ultimate goal, really, in all these instances to be prevention. So the more we can understand, the more we can look at these from a statistical perspective, to understand how often/where they occur certain characteristics. The goal there is to identify some type of commonalities.
And our Behavioral Analysis Unit does a really excellent job, separate from this report, of conducting more in-depth examinations of an individual incident or individuals involved in these incidents or responsible for these incidents, to look for things like recurring traits or commonalities to better understand what drives these individuals, thereby understanding what drives these events.
And again … and again, the goal there, through understanding, is prevention. So by educating ourselves, educating law enforcement, we can bring education and awareness to the general public and help identify things like certain characteristics or traits that we might see as, as warning signs of, of an event. And the goal there is to try to mitigate that problem, not just through a law enforcement perspective but really a whole-of-community type of approach to, to bring awareness to the public of prevention is everyone's job.
So if we see something that's significant, that stands out, it’s … it's really … it’s incumbent on everyone to maybe reach out to their local law enforcement agency or even the FBI. It's a larger issue than law enforcement. It affects everyone.
Much of the help can come from the public. So we've seen time and time again we're in the aftermath of an event where someone saw something, but they did not alert law enforcement. Bystander reporting is just incredibly important. So if people see something that is concerning, they should absolutely tell someone.
Kulstad: Joe, thank you. You know, you talked earlier in the discussion about the…help that we can provide and…that's where we offer for the victims of these types of attacks. And for that part of the conversation, I want to bring in Regina Thompson. She leads our Victim Services Division, or VSD for short, as we call it around the Bureau. Uh, Regina, welcome to the show.
Regina Thompson: Thank you for having us.
Kulstad: The folks you lead have often been described as the unsung heroes of the FBI. So when an active shooter event takes place, it's often the worst day of a person's life or the lives of their families for the victims that they leave behind. For those folks who don't know what your division does, can you give us a brief overview of that work and the mission of your folks?
Thompson: Absolutely. When we hear about crimes in the media, to include active shooter incidents, the public usually hears about how many people were killed or how many people were injured. Maybe how many people lost money in a scam, or how many children were abused by a perpetrator. But a story that is often not told is what happens to the victims of these crimes and their families? And how do they navigate in the aftermath of a crime?
For example, would you know what to do if you suddenly lost your house? All your money, clothes, documents, your identification? Or what if your child has been injured or killed in a state across the country, and you can't afford to fly? Or how do you repatriate remains of a family member who died, maybe, in another country as a result of a criminal act?
So the Victim Services Division assists victims and their families in navigating these complex questions and needs. So we have employees in all 56 field offices, where they live and work in the communities they serve, just as Joe had mentioned. And while our primary focus is on assisting victims of federal crime that are identified through FBI investigations, we also assist our federal, state, local, and tribal partners in their crisis responses and investigations when requested.
This is a very critical service that the FBI provides, as only approximately 15% of law enforcement agencies have a victim services program. And even when they do have a program, it is often too small to handle some of these larger scale incidences.
So we support all victims of federal crime, whether it's terrorism, human trafficking, crimes against children, fraud, active shooters, etc.
But many might not know that we assist U.S. persons taken hostage overseas, and we support their families while they are in the hostage situation. We also have child and forensic interviewers that specialize in conducting interviews in an age- and developmentally appropriate way. And we also have a very popular program called our Crisis Canine Program. As research shows that these specially trained dogs can provide support to victims and their families in very unique ways. For example, they help child victims have the courage and support they need to take the stand to testify in court, which can be key to having a positive prosecutorial outcome.
One of our most sought-after resources is our Victim Services Response Team, which is an elite team comprised of agents, analysts, and victim service providers that respond to large-scale crisis incidents—such as active shooters—because they're specially trained and prepared to handle these large-scale events and a large victim volume and next of kin.
I know I've referenced providing assistance multiple times, throughout this response. So you might be wondering, “What exactly does that mean?” So just in a nutshell, think about a active shooter event has just occurred. So one thing that's really needed is on-scene crisis intervention, or crisis intervention as we're providing death notifications to families, so that's something that we provide real time on scene and on site.
We also coordinate medical and mental health care for those impacted by the crime. We identify immediate needs, like sometimes people have lost their house or they need food or clothing or medications or they need their identifications replaced—those type of things. And one thing that we do that is really critical, and a lot of people don't think about, is we handle people's personal effects.
And what I mean by this is … think about it. Let's say an active shooter incidents occurs and, as they should, people just drop everything.
Kulstad: You drop everything.
Thompson: Yep, you drop everything, and you run, and you hide. And you're not worrying about your purses and your wallets and your car keys. And that's absolutely right. But then that's something where we need to be able to go in, collect all of these items, identify who they belong to. And also, unfortunately, a lot of times, the items have bio on them because, you know, people have been killed. So we also make sure that they're professionally cleaned before we return them to the victims.
Kulstad: It's, it’s not discussed in the report, but as we were getting ready for this interview, you talked to me about some of the statistics from what we did in 2022. I was really surprised to hear that, and if you can for us, share sort of what we did in 2022 with the number of active shooter events that we had from the FBI's Victim Services Division.
Thompson: Absolutely. In 2022, of the 50 FBI-designated active shooter incidents, the FBI provided victim service assistance in 13 of those incidents. And across those 13, we assisted approximately 3,000 victims and provided them with approximately 11,000 services. So while these numbers are staggering...
Kulstad: They are. 11,000.
Thompson: 11,000 services, yes. 'Cause it's not just obviously the immediate victims but, as I mentioned, also their family members. And while these numbers are staggering, they only represent our assistance in these specific active shooter incidences. And it's important to note that, every year, the Victim Services Division actually provides an average of 243,000 services to victims and their families. And we conduct approximately 16,000 child and adolescent forensic interviews.
We also provide training to our partners on multiple topics. For example, we have trained approximately 26,000 of our federal, state, local, and tribal partners on how to properly provide death notifications to victim families.
Kulstad: Needless to say, the, the the work that you do, as we talked about earlier, you encounter people on one of the worst, if not the worst day, of their lives. And for you all, that's a constant. That work cannot be easy. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Thompson: Well, thank you for recognizing that. It is actually very difficult. We've already talked about the challenges faced by victims of a crime, but it is also very difficult for the employees of the Victim Services Division and also the members of our Victim Services Response Team, as they live—as you mentioned—in this traumatic space every day. So to help support them, we have a robust resiliency program within our division to support our employees. And we also leverage the FBI's Employee Assistance Program.
Kulstad: Thank you for the work that you do. And I know, here at the FBI, when you talked about our canine response, it's always a good day when you see Wally and Gio walking down the hallway.
Joe, Regina, this is a topic that I’m sure we're going to continue to cover. And, and we appreciate your time today and would invite you back for a future podcast as appropriate.
Perez: Thank you.
Thompson: Thank you.
Kulstad: You can visit fbi.gov/survive to learn more about this report and access additional FBI resources related to active shooter incidents—the resources the FBI offers in active shooter events, and what you can do to increase your chances of surviving an active shooter event. Again, you can visit fbi.gov/survive.
This has been another production of Inside the FBI. You can follow us on your favorite podcast player, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. You can also subscribe to email alerts about new episodes at fbi.gov/podcasts.
I'm Michael Kulstad from the FBI's Office of Public Affairs. Thanks for joining us.