Extremist groups, Renaud said, often exploit a person's vulnerabilities when recruiting them.
(TNS) - For years, CJ Renaud commuted from the Greeley area every day to the Aurora high school where she worked as a school resource officer. Back then, the officers had a morning meeting twice per week. One day, when she got there, she found two men in suits who weren't taking part in any of the usual pre-meeting banter between officers.
They were, as they said later, from the FBI.
When they did speak, they told the officers in the room about the three Aurora teenage girls who had boarded a plane bound for the Middle East after ISIS recruited them online. Authorities intercepted the girls in Germany and returned them to their parents.
The girls weren't from Renaud's school, but they were nearby. Renaud and her police partner, Jake Bunch, wanted to know how an overseas terrorist organization wooed three girls from the Cherry Creek School District. It was concerning, Renaud said, and as a school resource officer, she felt she should know.
They took classes from the Department of Homeland Security and talked to people who studied extremist groups. They started to identify such groups' tactics and why kids fall prey to them. Then Renaud and Bunch put together presentations on the topic. They've given those presentations about 50 times across the country.
CJ Renaud sits in her office downtown. Renaud now works with Greeley-Evans School District 6 to help train teachers and others in the community to identify warning signs in youth being indoctrinated and recruited into extremist groups. (Joshua Polsonemail@example.com)
Now Renaud, who is retired and lives in Weld County, wants to share that knowledge. It's why she and Bunch will give a presentation Saturday in Greeley about how to spot the warning signs of youths being indoctrinated and recruited into extremist groups.
People become radicalized more often than might be thought. The Aurora high school students are one example, Renaud said. So is the Aurora resident who, in 2009, stockpiled chemicals to make bombs he planned to use on a New York City subway.
Extremist groups, Renaud said, often exploit a person's vulnerabilities when recruiting them. That strategy is especially common when it comes to teens. In the 21st century, she said, it's easier than ever online, where kids might have unsupervised conversations with adults who have ulterior motives.
"Radicalization is still a form of bullying," she said. "It picks that one little thing apart."
It's not just ISIS and other Muslim extremists either — Renaud pointed out domestic terrorism is often the biggest threat to public safety.
Regardless of how an extremist group recruits its members, the end result is often mass violence. Even Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold — the teens responsible for the 1999 Columbine High School shooting — had an ideology, she said. Their vulnerabilities pushed them to embrace it.
"Imagine if we had looked at Klebold and Harris' notebooks," she said. "Imagine if we had that little bit of knowledge at the front end."
Jeff Neel wants that knowledge. He works at Northern Colorado Youth for Christ and interacts with Weld's teens every day. He invited Renaud to give the presentation Saturday at the organization's building.
"We don't want to be a reactive community," he said. "A way to take a step as a community is to say we are proactive in engaging kids who are going down this route."
Neel said anyone can attend the presentation. Afterward, he said, attendees will break into smaller groups to talk about how the information relates to Greeley.
For Neel, educating himself about the topic isn't going above and beyond his duties as a mentor to youth. It's fulfilling a responsibility.
"I felt like I should have some sort of responsibility to be engaged," he said. "The more disengaged we are, that's when more problems happen."
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