The Dangers of Target Identifiers

From time to time, campus officials have been attacked in their offices, on campus grounds, or in campus parking areas. Some of these attacks relate to angry students, employees who have been terminated or suspended, attacks by animal rights extremists, or individuals who are dangerously mentally ill. In some instances, people from within the campus community who knew exactly where to find their victims have carried out attacks, but in others, attacks have been performed by violators who first had to locate their victims to carry out the attack. One method sometimes used by attackers to locate victims is what are known as target identifiers.

Pointing the Way
Names or position titles on reserved parking spaces, building directories indicating specific office locations for personnel who might be expected to be at heightened risk, and other indicators have been used to attack and even kill officials in a number of campus settings. A Florida school superintendent was shot out of his office chair and killed by an employee he had terminated who faked his way past a receptionist by claiming he was an old friend from out of town who wanted to surprise his friend. Another school superintendent was shot in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun by a state senator in Indiana (and, fortunately, survived the attack). In this case, the attacker stalked his victim because of a mistaken assumption and actually tried to kill his victim and entire family in a follow-up attack that was likewise fortunately botched.

Similarly, institutions of higher learning have had their share of attacks, such as a Georgia private university where an employee who had been terminated set a series of arson fires before he was arrested. Though he did not kill anyone, he caused extensive damage to facilities in this series of fire attacks.

Places of worship, K–12 public schools, prestigious and exclusive independent schools, corporate offices, military instillations, and a wide variety of other organizations have been the scene of numerous both attempted and successful attacks where offenders used target identifiers, or were thwarted because they could not find them. In a number of cases, campus attacks have been averted due to simple yet effective practices to create barriers to a potential attacker.

Institutions of higher learning should all consider when it might be dangerous to mark a parking space, office suite, or other location in a manner which could help an aggressor find his or her intended victim. A sign with the words “Reserved for President” or “Parking for Chancellor Smith Only” could be all it takes for an attacker to locate his intended prey. Changing a sign to simply say “Reserved” could be all it takes to prevent an act of violence. Be sure your institution balances good customer service and prestige for campus officials with good safety practices by reducing potentially dangerous target identifiers.

Think About Signage
Thinking about signage can make it far more difficult for an attacker to locate a victim. This parking identification method averted a shooting of a faculty member by her ex-husband who confessed that he came to the campus to kill her when she returned to her car. He was unable to locate her car because she rotated vehicles, and her parking space was not identified by her name, as had been past practice.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at

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