Paul Abbate
Deputy Director
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Albuquerque, New Mexico
November 13, 2023

Deputy Director's Remarks at New Mexico Safe School Summit

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you, Raul, and good morning, everyone. It is an honor to be here for the inaugural Safe School Summit. The purpose for which we’re gathered today carries tremendous importance and I hope this will be the first of many because finding ways to keep young people, and educators, and team members safe in the learning environment is among the highest priorities for our nation. At the FBI believe that if we all work together seamlessly - everyone - we can continue to advance safety and security in schools. Especially if we all continue to show up the way we have done today - so thank you all for being here.  

I also want to thank Lt. Gov Howie Morales and the State of New Mexico for partnering with us and hosting this important event, As well as to all of the incredible law enforcement partners, school administrators, educators, and staff, and the students for taking the time to be here. bring great meaning and hope to our collective efforts  and will add significantly to the progress toward making schools safer—both here and across the country. We are looking forward to many experts here this week sharing their perspectives on the threat environment facing us and their thoughts about how we can continue to work together to address them. As we begin, I’d first, I would like to briefly go into some background of how this summit came to fruition.

Last year, an FBI special agent named Bryce Oleski responded to an imminent threat of violence. A person from another state had attempted to recruit a student here in New Mexico, and together they were devising a plan to shoot people inside a school. Special Agent Oleski worked quickly to include partners to help in address this potential threat. He brought in a Customs and Border Patrol officer assigned to one of our task forces, along with officers from the New Mexico State Police, and together they engaged the local student, who was taken into custody by police.  
The individual was immediately remanded for mandatory psychological evaluation, placed on GPS monitoring, and charged criminally by the state. Thanks to a court order under the New Mexico red flag law, the individual will not be able to obtain a firearm in the future. This amounted to another instance where reporting followed by quick action by law enforcement and other partners including mental health professionals successfully prevented a potentially deadly act of violence, and stopped a person with means and motive from carrying out a plan to harm innocent people.

Our collective goal and our mission together and continues to be prevention, to get ahead of incidents like these by urgently involving the right people in order to help mitigate and prevent harm within our communities.

The longer version is something everyone in this room knows. No situation involving a young person who is planning to commit violence is ever simple, and it is rarely, if ever, completely resolved.  

There are many factors that complicate violent incidents committed by under-aged persons. For example, far too many of the incidents of school violence we’ve has seen involve minors who have adopted violent extremist ideologies. Minors and underage persons are actually a target demographic for violent extremist rhetoric, propaganda, and recruitment via social media, gaming, and other online platforms, and extremist messages appear to appeal to some young people because they seem to offer, though misguided, explanations for, and solutions to personal problems. They offer a sense of identity and belonging, and erroneous justification for violence, and increasingly, minors who are influenced in these ways often seem to seek out those things within a mix of violent ideologies, taking bits and pieces from different extremist groups, which results in what has become known as blended drivers to violence.  

Often, there are other problems that contribute to worsening the situation. That was the real-life case, as another example, with a 14-year-old student, living in a major city, who is part of an ongoing investigation. This individual faced significant mental health challenges when he started consuming violent content online, and before long, his interests had run the gamut of violent extremism. He became obsessed with the Columbine shooters, he appeared to be inspired by the foreign terrorist organization ISIS, and he was fascinated with neoNazism.  

Fortunately, in this case, at the same time he was seeing a mental health provider, and the provider became concerned when the young person started talking about harming other people—and himself. He expressed a desire to gain notoriety by killing as many people as possible. Hearing this, the mental health provider sounded the alarm and started a process that would help prevent the individual from carrying out an attack—more on that aspect in a moment.  An important lesson we’ve learned is that these situations, where young people are radicalized toward violence, are complex and difficult to resolve through law enforcement action alone. That is partly because it’s often difficult to bring criminal charges against minors, particularly at the federal level.  

So, if a would-be offender starts planning an attack—perhaps stockpiling firearms and ammunition and publishing threats online—federal agencies’ hands are often tied from an enforcement perspective.  

Of course, being closely partnered and aligned with our colleagues in state and local law enforcement, sharing intelligence and providing investigative resources to stop those who intend to commit violence, and it is a two-way street, because without our partnerships we would not be as effective.  For instance, crisis intervention teams at the state and local level have time and again proven to be critical partners in mitigating threats to schools, and we are truly grateful here locally to the teams from the Albuquerque Police, Department, Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office, and New Mexico State Police for their outstanding work. But even our collaborative efforts can be met with obstacles.  

Sometimes, a lesser charge at the state or local level means that a minor returns home back into community very quickly.  

That may be good news for someone—especially a younger kid—who receives help and resources, truly leaves behind their violent intentions, and is ready to rejoin society. But it can have terrible consequences if that does not happen, and the individual continues to harbor violent thoughts and plans to act on them. Sometimes, a subject’s psychological state, even when combined with statements or behaviors, does not meet the standards to bring criminal charges. So, the all-important questions becomes, how do we stop these acts when traditional law enforcement actions and arrests are not a sufficient means of mitigating a threat of violence?  

It is clear we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem. It is clear we are not going to arrest our way out of the problem.  Not to mention—arresting young people is never anyone’s preferred first line of mitigation. We need to take steps toward being more innovative in our approach.  

That is why we are here today. Working together to continuously build and develop better strategies and bring more resources to bear in a coordinated/synchronized way is essential to preventing not only mass casualty incidents, but also other types of violence and crime hat impact youth and society, to include sextortion, human trafficking, and too many other very real threats. The challenges we face in our schools and among youth who have been swept up in this today require a whole community approach.  

From our perspective, that means sharing FBI resources and leveraging each components skill and expertise, forming collaborative teams to mitigate threats. It means relying on partners like our law enforcement task force officers, some of whom are here today — because you are the experts on your state and local jurisdictions and law and already have established relationships with community members.  

It means reaching out to dedicated community leaders who best understand the issues and the causes, and get the needs of those they serve.  
It means working with professionals from different disciplines within mental health and social services because their expertise can help bring better understanding of individuals at risk and bring dedicated support and pathways to help them get better.  And it means connecting law enforcement resources as appropriate with school administrators, faculty, staff, and students to work to prevent violence before it occurs.  

The case mentioned earlier featured this kind of multidisciplinary collaboration, in that case, the mental health provider saw red flags and alerted the FBI, The FBI notified local law enforcement partners who joined the investigative effort, and with the proper consent, the treatment team kept open lines of communication with those officers.  That team approach prevented this individual from potentially inflicting immense and tragic harm on the community. In an ideal world, every at-risk youth would be seen and receive the same individualized care and attention and through a well-coordinated multidisciplinary response.  
That is what we’re seeking to help accomplish by working with the people and institutions that anchor communities, and by gathering here today.  
But in addition to these partnership and team-building efforts, it’s important to know that in the sad and unfortunate instances where tragedy does occur, the FBI will be there to help, support, and assist in every way possible. If a critical incident happens, the FBI will work around the clock to assist in whatever way we can.   Our goal is always to help bring support and contribute toward resolutions.  

In the first instance, the objective is to make the situation safe. That requires quick law enforcement action and often tactical assistance. Initially, the focus must be on safeguarding the scene and protecting citizens from additional violence? Next, there is the investigative aspect, we work in support to help ascertain the facts to determine what exactly happened.  We are looking to determine what motivated the perpetrator, was it a terrorist attack driven by some sort of ideology, a hate crime targeting people because of some aspect of a protected characteristic or some other type of incident.  The answer to that question determines whether there is a federal nexus.  

Even if there is no federal nexus, we are still there to help our law enforcement partners, and throughout that entire process, we are on the ground, offering whatever resources we can, these include:

  • Agents and other personnel to  
  • Help conduct interviews and other investigative actions
  • Evidence collection through our evidence response teams
  • Analysis of digital evidence, cell phones, videos, and other sources…  
  • Laboratory and forensic assistance, if needed, for any type of physical evidence
  • And victim services to help survivors cope with loss and trauma.  
  • We also have bomb technicians, highly trained crisis response teams, negotiators, the Hostage Rescue Team, and behavioral analysts available to support.  

With all that, the number one goal remains always preventing violence from happening in the first place.  To that end, we are working to understand active shooter incidents by tracking them and fully examining the perpetrators and the circumstances under which they happened.  

Earlier this year we released a report on Active Shooter incidents in the U.S. in 2022. Last year sadly saw 50 incidents, not far from the 61 in 2021—the most recorded for any year covered by these studies. To be clear, this report, by definition, looks only at incidents in which one or more individuals are actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. Shootings stemming from narcotics transactions, retaliatory violence, or violence related to ongoing criminal behavior are not included in the report. Still, even within that narrow  
scope, the trends are alarming, with nearly 313 people killed last year—up nearly 30% from 2021.  

Our experts are also researching the specific circumstances surrounding acts of violence of this type. Our Behavioral Analysis Unit, which you will hear from later today, offers threat assessments and looks at individual incidents to identify common characteristics and understand the drivers of violence. By conducting this rigorous analysis and assessment we hope to be able to share lessons and further awareness to help communities recognize what might be considered warning signs of an impending violent incident. But we are not just studying the threat, we have also developed several trainings, with partner needs in mind.

We have provided Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response training—that’s "ALERRT"—to more than 147,000 law enforcement first responders, teaching the same response protocols that have been adopted for all of our special agent tactical instructors. And for civilian participants we have the Active Shooter Attack Prevention and Preparedness, or "ASAPP" course. ASAPP is based on the widely adopted "Run, Hide, Fight" model and empowers people to survive—and help others survive—in an active shooter situation. This year alone, we have provided ASAPP training to more than 2,000 of our partners at schools, houses of worship, businesses, government agencies, hospitals, and other entities. And people are finding the training so valuable from a potentially life-saving standpoint that some of our field offices are working at an incredible pace to keep up with demand.  

So if you know of someone who is interested in setting up a training in their community, please advise them to contact the local FBI field office and we will work to schedule. SAC Bujanda and his team are here with us today for that purpose. The goal of course is to put people in the best position to protect themselves and to keep others safe.   

I would like to conclude with a final thought, in order to stop violence and other forms of harm before they occur, we must be relentless in our effort and drive, we must be thoughtful, innovative, and oriented toward urgent action. And we must be absolutely and fully committed to each other and to working together collaboratively to achieve our shared objectives of safety and support for everyone. Everyone here has seen the senseless devastation communities, families, and people face in the tragic aftermath of a mass-casualty incident.  
But it brings great hope that we are here in this room, united in our common goal to make schools safer and to keep people safe from harm. It has been a privilege to join you this morning and have an opportunity to engage. I hope that everyone takes away valuable lessons and gets the most from the summit and I’m looking forward to participating on the student panel that follows.  
Stay well, be safe, and God bless.