Project History

The idea of the Telemedicine Wellness, Intervention, Triage, and Referral Project (TWITR) began following 2012, a horrible year for mass killings in the United States. On June 20, 2012, James Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70 others in an unprovoked attack on an Aurora, Colorado theatre. Then, on December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 elementary school children and 6 adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Adam Lanza committed suicide in the school as police arrived and it was later discovered he had killed his mother earlier in the day at the home they shared.

Following these terrible instances it was determined that each shooter had significant problems with mental illness and received inadequate or ineffective treatment. While many thought that the availability of firearms was the real culprit in these killings, examination of other mass school violence incidents in other countries again pointed to underlying issues of mental illness. For example, from 2010 to 2012 in China there were numerous mass stabbings, hammer attacks, and cleaver attacks, which resulted in at least 25 children and adults killed and another 115 injured. In China, the main bases for these horrific events were stress and mental illness.

Although the incidents in Aurora and Newtown were undeniably terrible, mass killings are the exception rather than the rule. And, most school-based violence involves student-student or student-teacher interactions. Therefore, Texas Governor Rick Perry asked for a model project to be created to identify those most at risk for committing violence in schools and intervene with those students before acts of violence occur.

The F. Marie Hall Institute for Rural and Community Health at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) in Lubbock, Texas was chosen to develop and implement the model program. The Institute was chosen because of its unique experience in conducting community-based projects and the open communication between the Institute’s leadership, TTUHSC administration, and the Office of the Governor. Ultimately, a grant was awarded from the Criminal Justice Division of the Office of the Governor to create and implement the TWITR Project.