OHS Canada Magazine

Two staff members, five students injured in school knife attack

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March 1, 2016
By Jeff Cottrill

Compliance & Enforcement Health & Safety assault Mental Health occupational health and safety ontario schools social media workplace violence

Alleged assailant, 14, had posted about attack on social media

(Canadian OH&S News) — A high school in Pickering, Ont. was placed in lockdown for several hours on Feb. 23, after a 14-year-old girl allegedly attacked staff members and other students in the hallways, injuring seven in total.

According to a press release from the Durham Regional Police Service (DRPS), the young student brought two knives with her to Dunbarton High School that morning and began attacking random people in the halls. Two staff members and five students were hurt. The DRPS’ west division received a call about the attacks at about 8:30 a.m., and two staffers managed to restrain the girl and hold her down until the officers arrived.

Police arrested the attacker on charges of assault and possession of dangerous weapons, as well as six counts of assault causing bodily harm and seven counts of assault with a weapon. Four of the injured parties were sent to the hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

DRPS detective Steve Rhoden told COHSN that the suspect had probably been acting out of mental-health issues. “She suffered from some mental illness,” he said. “It was known.”

Asked if the incident could have been prevented in any way, Rhoden replied that police were investigating the possibility. “We’re still trying to figure that out,” he said.


Police said they did not believe that the attacker had been targeting any specific people. DRPS officers swept every room in the school during the lockdown, as part of regular clearance procedures.

The school was open on the day after the incident, and all staff and the majority of students attended, according to John Bowyer, the superintendent responsible for safe schools with the Durham District School Board (DDSB).

“Obviously, it was a traumatic experience,” said Bowyer. “As a result, the school board had support workers that were there in order to support both the students and the staff.”

The DDSB is planning to conduct a debriefing with the DRPS and other agencies involved with the incident, Bowyer added. There will also be a review of the processes and communications involving police-lockdown protocols.

Word has since come out that the suspect had posted about the intended attack on social media in advance. Online media reports included screenshots of the girl’s Tumblr posts from Feb. 22.

“I hate not knowing what to do anymore,” the suspect wrote in one post. “I’m literally planning to go on a stabbing spree at school tomorrow.”

The following morning, she posted: “I’m going to commit a high school stabbing today. I’m not coming back. Bye, guys, thanks for the fun.”

Bowyer said that monitoring everybody’s individual behaviour on social media would be “difficult and challenging” for a school like Dunbarton, which has about 1,400 students. But the school board does work with students and staff on what it calls “Digital Citizenship”, or education about proper online behaviour. “What we’re saying is what we expect from you as a citizen within the school, around character education, around kindness, et cetera, that we would expect from you online as well,” he explained.

The schools in the district also practise lockdown and hold-and-secure procedures at least semiannually, with police representatives at hand, followed by debriefings on what could be improved. “In the middle of March,” said Bowyer, “we’re actually going to do a lockdown at lunchtime, because that’s the time that you don’t necessarily prepare for, at one of our large high schools.” This will be a pilot for lunchtime hold-and-secure procedures, he said. “That’s something we need to learn about.”

Following the arrest, the suspected attacker was held for a bail hearing. She was scheduled to appear in court at 10 a.m. on Feb. 24, police said.


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