Motivations for Active Threat Attackers

Feb 6, 2019 12:10:50 PM / by Active Threat Solutions by Defense in Depth

In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released a study detailing pre-attack behaviors of active shooters in the United States between 2000 and 2013. One hundred-sixty active shooter incidents were examined in this study. The FBI focused on the circumstances of the shooting like the location, duration and what happened at the end of the shooting; however, what they failed to do is try to identify the motivation driving the shooter. Recently, there has been a follow-up of this report, referred to as phase two, which examines actions leading up to the attack and then why they attacked.


According to the phase two of the FBI report, active shooters take time to plan and prepare for the attack.

  • Seventy-seven percent of the attackers spent a week or longer planning.
  • Forty-six percent of the attackers spent a week preparing (procuring their weapons like extra ammo, smoke grenades, protective gear and improvised explosive devices).

On average, the attackers displayed four to five concerning behaviors that others observed.

  • For attackers aged 18 or under, teachers and their peers observed concerning behaviors more than their family members.
  • For attackers over the age of 18, their spouses were more like to observe these behaviors. 

Forty-nine percent of active shooters had grievances related to interpersonal or employment action against the shooter.

  • In the majority of cases, 64 percent, at least one of the victims was specifically targeted.


At Active Threat Solutions by Defense in Depth, we like to think about active threat attackers in three categories.


active threat

In this case, the attacker is a former or current employee. This situation is often brought about because of work conflicts or interpersonal differences. According to a study titled Active Shooter Response by Steve S. Bhimji and Scott Goldstein, seven percent of workplace homicides are because of worker to worker issues.


In domestic incidents, the female is usually the target and the attacker is male. This type of incident occurs often when one has filed a restraining order against the other.


In this case, the attacker can be a customer or patient.


Common motivations for these incidents include:

  • Holding a grudge
  • Being treated poorly
  • Wanting revenge
  • Having different political or religious belief

We often see warning signs for the active threat attacker such as threatening warning social media posts or verbally warning of the attack, displaying sadistic behavior, not being empathetic to other shootings, as well as gathering intelligence in the form of driving around the location, taking pictures, sitting in one spot for a long time and asking about building security.


What can you do now?

Before an active threat incident happens, you can:

  1. Sign up for active threat training.

  2. If you see something, say something.

  3. Know your workplace response and emergency action plans, and if you don’t have one….request one.

  4. Identify exits and good places to hide.

  5. Learn first-aid for non-serious and serious injuries.

What can you do during?

Having an emergency action plan can help you determine what to do during an active threat situation, including if you should run, hide or fight.

Run: If there is an easy escape path, attempt to evacuate the premises. Be sure to:

  1. Have an escape route and plan in mind

  2. Evacuate regardless of whether others agree to follow

  3. Leave your belongings behind

  4. If possible, help others escape

  5. Prevent others from entering the area where the active shooter may be

  6. Keep your hands visible

  7. Follow any instructions given by law enforcement

  8. Call 911 when you are safe

Hide: If evacuation is not possible, find a place to hide where the active shooter is less likely to find you.

Your hiding places should be:

  • Out of the active shooter’s view
  • Provide protection if shots are fired in the direction of the locked door
  • Not restrict or trap you from options for movement

Fight: As the last resort, and only when your life is in danger, attempt to disrupt and/or incapacitate the active shooter by:

  • Acting as aggressively as possible against him/her
  • Yelling
  • Throwing items and utilizing improvised weapons

What do you do after?

After an active threat incident, there will be chaos. It is important that you remain calm. When law enforcement arrives:

  1. Remain calm and follow the officer’s instructions.

  2. Put down any items in your hands, immediately raise your hands and keep hands visible at all times.

  3. Avoid pointing or yelling.

  4. Proceed in the direction from which officers are entering the premises.

  5. Consider professional help to help you cope with the long-term effects of this incident.



History has shown that active threat events can randomly take place anytime, anywhere. In response to this growing epidemic, we have employed the best talent in the country to assist businesses, schools and places of worship to do everything in their power to inform, prepare and empower citizens and employees with the knowledge to survive a potentially violent encounter.

Members of our training staff have extensive experience with agencies such as the United States Secret Service, United States Marshals Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), the United States Department of Defense, to name a few, as well as a number of other federal and state agencies. Our instructors are in multiple locations from Boston, Massachusetts to Roseville, California.

If you, your office, place of worship, etc., would like to take part in our active threat training services, let us know.


Topics: active threat

Active Threat Solutions by Defense in Depth

Written by Active Threat Solutions by Defense in Depth

Active Threat Solutions by Defense in Depth was developed to equip individuals with the knowledge and confidence they need that will inspire them to implement crisis solutions in the workplace making them feel safer and more empowered.