At an Orange Coast College night class more than a year ago, a student walked outside during a break and said he wanted to kill the professor, according to a school official.
The student then pointed his index finger, mimicking a gunshot from a pistol, said Vice President of Student Services Kristin Clark.
Another student who saw the incident told the professor. Campus safety officers ended up escorting the first student off campus, Clark said.
After class, officers made sure the professor safely made it to her car.
"She was petrified," Clark said.
The incident was then handed over to a team at OCC that investigates student behavior and maintains files on dozens of individuals who could pose a threat to themselves or others on campus.
The idea, according to members of the Behavioral Assessment Team, or BAT, is to act preemptively by studying student behavior and offering help before a situation goes bad.
"The essence of this is not to be Big Brother, or peg students, or put labels on them; it's to try to provide help," Clark said. "Our philosophy is to try to assess any kind of threat or student in crisis immediately and get them the resources they need as fast as we possibly can."
Clark sits on the board with acting Dean of Student Services Carla Martinez, Associate Dean of Student Support Programs Steve Tamanaha, Director of Campus Safety John Farmer and Associate Dean of Student Health Services Sylvia Worden.
In non-emergency situations, faculty and staff can report any disruptive or concerning behavior to BAT, Clark said, sometimes prompting the team to open a file.
Reports range from overly stressed students, someone talking to himself in the back of class or outright threats, BAT members said.
A typical file includes interviews with employees and students, according to BAT members.
If a student in question accesses mental health services at OCC's health center, that can also be placed in the file, but the details about what happened at the appointment are never included, Clark said.
So far, the group has compiled files on 45 students, according to one member, however not all those cases remain open.
Although BAT has existed for years, incidents of violence affecting other college campuses have pushed the team to up its game, one BAT member said.
"That was a community college student," Worden said of Loughner.
The team is trying to spread the word about an online reporting system for faculty and staff. They plan to establish a system to handle student reports too.
What the teams finds when it investigates reports can reveal a student in crisis or on the verge of harm, Clark said.
"This is a student that says, 'Yeah, right now I want to hurt myself. I want to die right now,'" Clark said. "Those are the students that, when that happens we call the Costa Mesa PD and they have a unit that handles it."