There was a recent surge in violence in educational institutions across the country. The incidents have many factors behind, like violent content on social media, vulnerability of young people to extremisms, exposure to details of massacres and more. In addition, experts indicate that the pandemic, the consequent closure of schools, and the transference of classes to the online environment for a long period pushed more and more youngsters to violent actions. Media outlets took measures to avoid the “Contagion Effect” and governments are now attempting to come up with a solution as soon as possible. Nonetheless, the way to this objective do not seem to be straightforward, since not all solutions may compensate, and can even do more harm than help.

Violence in Brazilian Schools Surges

On 5 April, a 25-year-old man jumped the wall of a daycare center with a hatchet and killed four kids between 5 and 7 years old, injuring other five. Then, he proceeded to escape and handed himself over to the police. The incident, which took place in Blumenau city, Santa Catarina state, in the South Region of Brazil, was not the last nor the first, but part of a sequence of attacks carried out against educational institutions across the country.

A bit earlier, on 27 March, another attack in a school occurred, this time, in São Paulo. A student from state school Thomazia Montoro entered the institution with a knife and a skull mask. He killed his teacher and injured three more teachers and two students. The attacker was later detained by the victims and arrested by the police.

In the past months, such events quickly proliferated throughout Brazil, where the frequency of this type of action increased significantly. Since 2002, the country has had 22 attacks of extreme violence in schools according to a survey by researcher Michele Prado, from the State University of São Paulo (USP).

The number, which may not seem so high, especially when compared to other nations, is alarming within the local context due to the speed with which cases have been appearing. From February 2022 to March 2023, 11 attacks took place, 10 of which were successful. If the new incidents that happened in April are considered, the total of attacks in schools in Brazil reported only in 2022 and 2023 already exceeds the total from the previous 20 years.

Another survey by researchers from Unicamp reached similar results. In this case, only cases involving students and former students were considered. The work was promoted by Professor Telma Vinha, who recorded 22 attacks between 2002 and 2023, 10 of them in the last two years.

Other Attacks Reported Between March and April

  • On 28 March, a 15-year-old student was apprehended after attempting to stab his classmates in Manoel Cícero city School, Gávea, Rio de Janeiro South Zone. He was the only person to be injured.
  • On 10 April, a 14-year-old student accessed his school, a Unified Educational Center (CEU) in Perus, São Paulo North Zone, SP, carrying knives, a fake pistol and wearing a mask. He was detained by the institution’s employees and was unable to harm anyone.
  • On 10 April, a student from Manaus Adventist Institute (IAM), a private school, stabbed and injured a teacher and two colleagues.
  • On 11 April, in a school in Santa Tereza de Goiás, Goiás state, a 13-year-old student stabbed three colleagues, being later detained by a janitor.
  • On 26 April, a not identified man carrying a machete invaded a daycare center inside the Centro Municipal de Educação Mario Quintana (CEMEI), in Osasco, São Paulo metropolitan area. He was quickly detained by a school bus driver who was nearby.

Threats and Panic

After the attacks perpetrated between March and April, many threats of new massacres were made, spreading panic among students, teachers, parents, and authorities. Complaints recorded by crime reporting phones and web-based tools implemented by city, state and federal governments across the country skyrocketed. Furthermore, students and their families, fearing the worst, started skipping classes; schools and even universities started debating whether it should open or stay closed.

The Safe School Channel (Canal de Denúncias  Escola Segura)– a tool for sending complaints about potential attacks implemented by the Justice and Public Security Ministry on 7 April – received a total of 8,513 complaints via the internet between its inauguration and 24 April. Waves of rumors stimulated by extremist groups on social networks and forums were behind this, according to media sources. The peak took place on 10, 11 and 12 April, when the highest number of daily complaints were recorded, respectively 1,346; 1,836; and 1,798.

Number of complaints made to the emergency number from the project Safe School. Just after its creation, in the aftermath of an attack to a daycare center, a huge wave of complaints was recorded. The results are likely the consequence of fake complaints but also of the contagion effect, which stablishes that an act of violence stimulates another one.

Wave of rumors spread online announced attacks on different days. Many were followed by messages praising far-right personalities, such Adolf Hitler. One date that generated a lot of concern was 20 April, the Nazi leader birthday, and the Columbine massacre (USA) date. On this day, the Safe School project received 248 links to inform about attack threats, the highest result after the period between 10 to 12 April.

After the Thomazia Montoro incident, São Paulo authorities noticed that the case could inspire new waves of aggressions or at least threats. On the date of the attack and in the following four days, the Civil Police received 279 complaints of threats or suspected plans for new attacks recorded by their own channels. This total represents a sudden increase in numbers. In comparison, from January to 26 March, 82 threats of the same type were registered.

The attack threats changed schools’ routine across the country. Teachers reported to media sources that they started to find students crying, parents picking up their children from school ahead of time. Meanwhile, units suspended tests and outdoor activities for fear of being the target of attacks. For instance, on 20 April, newspapers announced that many schools, universities, and daycare centers had a significant reduction in the number of students that attended classes on that day. Some decided to maintain classes, but others had only online classes or suspended them all.

Apparently, the wave of threats started to dwindle with the progress of Operation Safe School, which was launched on 6 April to prevent attacks on educational institutions. The authorities’ response resulted in 358 searches and seizures with 356 arrests of adults and apprehensions of underage suspects until 1 May, according to Justice and Public Security Minister Flávio Dino. 1,574 suspects were also taken to the police stations to give statements. The action had a national scope and police forces from many states took part. The results were possible, in general, due to the monitoring of social networks. This work resulted in the removal or preservation of content for investigation of 812 profiles on social networks identified as threats to schools.

Causes that Contribute to Violence

Experts from many fields interviewed by BBC Brazil mention a set of causes behind the increase in the number of attacks in schools. Some of the main factors mentioned are: content on social media that encourages violence; bullying; exposure to details of massacres and idolatry of perpetrators; gun culture; vulnerability of young people to extremisms, among others.

Nazi artifacts found in the home of a teen in Maquiné, Rio Grande do Sul. Photo Credit: Civil Police.

For Sociologist Carolina Ricardo, social media became an integral part of teens’ sociability, at the same time, they amplified the spectrum of potential individuals and ideas one could have contact with, including violent and extremist ones. They can be shared through texts, photos, and videos containing details of massacres, which sometimes praise and celebrate their perpetrators. This may have a double effect: work as a reference on how to carry out an attack and be an inspiration, because it glorifies the aggressors. On top of that, the content frequently circulate freely and do not find any kind of censorship.

When people are victims of bullying or are treated as outcasts, the effects of getting in touch with extremist content can be multiplied. This is particularly true for youngsters. For psychiatrist Danielle Admoni, teenagers’ exacerbated susceptibility to extremist ideas adds another element of risk. Admoni explains that teens do not have all the brain circuits formed nor the experience that adults have. Yet, they are often compelled to identify with a group.

The influence of extremist ideas published on the internet has been found without much effort by the Police. In addition to data discovered on computers and phones, in many attacks, perpetrators wore some type of Nazi reference, such as armbands with the swastika. Other objects that they wore are masks of skulls or clowns. There were also items at the homes of the attackers, like flags and the book written by Adolf Hitler, “Mein Kampf.

Even though many attacks are perpetrated with knives or other bladed weapons, many of the deadliest ones involve firearms. Thus, firearms culture and the recently facilitated access to them are important elements of this type of violence, according to Carolina Ricardo.

The deep web is made of non-indexed content. To access it, users, have to resort to special web browsers. Source: Ranjithsiji.

The study group coordinated by Professor Vinha clarifies that the element responsible for recently pushing more and more youngsters to carry out acts of violence was the pandemic, the consequent closure of schools, and the transference of classes to the online environment. With this isolation psychological problems aggravated, students’ time online surged, therefore, their chance of entering virtual forums that propagate hate speech – Nazi, Neo-Nazi, racist, misogynistic –, and the so-called deep web – unindexed internet – grew. However, at the same time, such contents are increasingly on the digital surface, that is, using legal and widespread networks, such as Instagram, TikTok, WhatsApp, Twitter, Telegram and Discord.

Change in Media Policies

The sequence of attacks led media outlets to rethink the way they produce content regarding this topic. The major Brazilian newspapers decided not to disclose the names, photos, and videos of the perpetrators. The decision is based on an effect studied in the US, the “Contagion Effect”, according to which past massacres inspire future ones. These policies have precedents, for instance, suicide and kidnapping cases are usually not reported.

Surveys indicate that the notoriety given to the criminals that are responsible for these tragedies is a motivational factor for other potential attackers to follow the same path, thus, achieving a kind of fame that they would hardly have in their lives. It has been found that on the forums they compete to see who gets more media attention. In the US, groups like “No Notoriety” and “Don’t Name Them”, campaign for newspapers not to disclose details about the murderers.

Authorities have also noticed the important role of social networks in this crisis, thus, began to prepare a set of rules to regulate them. The Justice and Public Security Ministry published on Wednesday (12/04) an ordinance to regulate the action of social networking platforms in relation to the transmission of violent content in these environments. The objective is to establish guidelines so that companies suffer sanctions, including even suspension of activities, if they do not act to combat the spread of hateful content.

The companies that resisted the government’s measures were Telegram and Twitter. The first was fined and suspended for a period, the latter, after a while, complied with the established regulations.

Solution: Prevention, not Trauma

On the third topic of this text, when the causes that contribute to violence at schools were addressed, one of them was intentionally left out, the lack of support. Brazilian schools are not used to deal with this phenomenon, and few are the ones with response plans. For instance, only 6.5% of the 137,828 public basic education schools in the country have psychologists and only 3.7% have social workers, according to a report made by Congress in 2022.

The sequence of incidents promoted a sudden rush of public and private educational institutions in search of protocols and other mental health and violence prevention actions. Some went after socio-emotional programs developed by private groups. The Congress announced a measure to hire psychologists and social workers in public education networks, and many hired professionals to give presentations on how to react during an attack.

However, experts warn that some solutions are extreme and may not be worth taking, due to side effects in the face of a threat that, even though terrible, do not represent a large portion of cases of violence in the country. Thus, using them as a standard for thousands of schools could have terrible effects impacting millions of students and staff.

Active shooter drills is an example from abroad that show how a measure can be negative. According to the NGO “Everytown For Gun Safety”, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the US, “students, educators, and staff have experienced distress and sometimes lasting trauma” as a result of such drills. For the NGO, the consequences are not justifiable; especially because these training sessions have not had their efficacy proven and only 0.2% of gun deaths a year occur on school grounds.

In an article published by Folha de SP, Ivan Marques, researcher from the Brazilian Public Security Forum, reveals that Brazil is under the same scenario. In the biggest nation of South America, this kind of violence is quite rare, thus it is not worth following tactics that traumatize and are unproven.

Other tactics are criticized by experts, particularly those that “militarize” schools. They claim that the approaches that hire armed patrols, install metal detectors, and even allow staff to carry weapons for self-defense are extreme and can make students and employees uncomfortable and stressed in a learning environment, where this should never be the standard.

The American NGO advocates that the behavioral threat assessment (BTA) is a better solution, since it does not create such situations and, in addition, it is a preventive strategy, not a responsive one, like the drills, often based on ideas like “run, hide, fight”.

The survey “Mass Attacks in Public Spaces: 2016-2020”, by the United States Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, published on January 2023, informs that BTA is based on collection and analysis of “information about concerning behaviors and communications from diverse sources across the community.” Professionals assess “each situation as it arises” and apply an adequate approach to manage the risk. “This model often includes the involvement of family members and friends, social services, mental health professionals, faith-based organizations, and law enforcement when appropriate.” By uniting all these stakeholders, the model seeks to corroborate “information from both formal and informal community systems to determine if an individual poses a risk of violence”.

According to NGO Everytown, the system is already under use in 9 US states, including Washington, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Florida, and Texas. The Comprehensive Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (CSTAG) is a model program which recommends an approach to violence prevention that emphasizes early attention to problems such as bullying, teasing, and other forms of student conflict before they escalate into violent behavior. Studies revealed “that schools that have used threat assessment programs see as few as 0.5 to 3.5 percent of students carry out a threat of violence or attempt to, with none of the threats that were carried out being serious threats to kill, shoot, or seriously injure someone.”

In addition to the already mentioned measures, the Federal Government also implemented the following:

  • Creation of an interministerial group to debate the topic and find solutions
  • The group will present a report to support a national policy to fight violence
  • R$ 150 million from the National Public Security Fund (FNSP) to reinforce the school patrols
  • Extra 40 police officer will be dedicated to monitor online threats of attacks
  • Strengthening of the School Health Program
  • Campaign to discourage acts of violence
  • Training school staff to mediate conflicts
  • Creation of a protocol to avoid cases of violence
  • Integral teaching plan

In Brazil, the measures are still in development and being adopted. However, the efforts appear to be uncoordinated and towards many directions. While the Federal Government is trying to regulate the online environment and gather content to create a national policy, some city and state administrations have chosen more responsive tactics, like armed guards patrolling schools. For example, this measure was adopted by Minas Gerais and Santa Catarina, and the city of São Bernardo do Campo. The results are to be seen.


INTERLIRA can provide the services of a platform that automates online investigations across clear, deep and dark web. The solution analyzes key vectors and people related to a given topic in order to detect weak signals of threats.

Regarding behavioral threat assessment, INTERLIRA can assist schools in the implementation of the program and to investigate concerning behaviors.

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