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Today’s Prevalence of School Shootings: Prevention and Intervention

Columbine Shooting Security Camera
School shootings are becoming an increasingly common aspect of life. We often hear in the news that there has been another shooting at a school, or a youngster has been arrested for taking a weapon to school. Our schools should be safe havens for teaching and learning – free of crime and violence. Violence on school grounds not only affects all the students and teachers involved, but also severely disrupts the educational process, the school itself, and the surrounding community.

School violence is a multi-faceted dilemma, making it difficult for researchers to pinpoint its causes. According to the U.S. Secret Service, there were 37 school shootings between 1974 and 2000. Although this averages less than one per year, statistics indicate that the prevalence of school shootings increases dramatically each decade. Disturbingly, there were 10 school shootings in 2012 – and there were 8 more during January 2013. Unfortunately, the past decade has seen an unprecedented increase in these incidents, which truly highlights the fact that something needs to change. As one parent stated, “What the HELL is happening to kids today! I strongly believe that many parents are tacitly teaching them that violence is just a way of life by allowing them to spend endless hours playing violent video games!”

Too much exposure to violence through media does indeed desensitize kids and teens to violence. As a result, today’s younger generation may be learning to accept violent behavior as a normal way to solve problems.

School Violence: Some Alarming Statistics—
  • 6% of elementary school educators have reported being physically attacked by their students.
  • 8% of children in grades 9–12 have reported being threatened or injured with a weapon (e.g., gun, knife, or club) on school property. 
  • 8% of secondary school educators have reported being threatened with violence by a child in their classroom.
  • Firearms used in school-associated homicides come primarily from the perpetrator's home. 
  • Homicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 5-18. Data indicates that about 2% of these deaths happen on school grounds or on the way to or from school. 
  • About 10 % of male children in grades 9–12 have reported being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property, compared to 5 % of female children. 
  • Just during the school year of 2008–09 alone, there were 1,579 homicides among school-age kids ages 5–18, of which 17 occurred at school. 
  • Most school-associated violent deaths occur during transition times, immediately before and after the school day and during lunch.
  • Nearly 50 % of homicide perpetrators gave some type of warning signal (e.g., making a threat or leaving a note) prior to the event.
  • Violent deaths are more likely to occur at the start of each semester.

Let me ask a question to all you parents out there: How many homicides were committed in your school while you were growing up? None? That’s what I thought! 

Here is a list of school shootings just for the year of 2013 alone:

January 7, 2013— Shots were fired at Apostolic Revival Center Christian School, leaving 27-year-old Kristopher Smith dead in what was believed to be a retaliation killing, possibly for talking with police about a previous incident.

January 10, 2013— A gunman entered a science classroom of Taft Union High School with a 12 gauge shotgun and opened fire. A 16-year-old male student, identified as Bowe Cleveland, was shot in the chest and critically wounded. Another student was shot at, but was not hit. The classroom teacher, Ryan Heber, convinced him to drop his weapon, and the gunman followed his order and was later arrested. Additionally, Heber suffered a minor wound from being grazed by a shotgun pellet during the ordeal. The gunman is suspected to be a 16-year-old student of the school, Bryan Oliver. Cleveland and the other student that was shot at are both believed to be intended targets of the gunman. On January 14, Oliver was charged with two counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm.

January 15, 2013— A gunman shot an administrator in his office on the fourth floor of Stevens Institute of Business and Arts, wounding him. The suspected gunman, Sean Johnson, a part-time student, shot and wounded himself on a stairwell. Both the administrator and Johnson were hospitalized in stable conditions. Johnson was charged with three felony charges, including assault.

January 15, 2013— Two people were shot and killed and a third person was wounded at the parking lot of Hazard Community and Technical College. The third victim, 12-year-old Taylor Cornett, died from her wounds the next day. 21-year-old Dalton Lee Stidham was arrested and charged with three counts of murder.

January 16, 2013— A 17-year-old boy, Tyrone Lawson, was shot to death in a parking lot of Chicago State University. The shooting happened after high school basketball games were being held on the university campus, and Lawson was a spectator at the event. Police arrested two people after the shooting and recovered a weapon.

January 22, 2013— Between the Library and Academic Building outside of Lone Star College North Harris, two men got into an argument and one of the men pulled out a gun and shot the other man, a student, injuring him. A maintenance man suffered a gunshot wound to the leg. The gunman accidentally shot himself in the leg. After the shooting, the gunman fled into the woods and was arrested hours later. The charges against the initial suspect were dropped and another man was arrested.

January 31, 2013— A 14-year-old male student was shot and wounded in the back of the neck at Price Middle School. The gunman, a student, was believed to be arguing with the other student before taking out a handgun and firing multiple shots at him. In addition, a teacher was injured during the shooting. Afterward, the gunman was disarmed by a school resource officer and subsequently apprehended. He was charged with aggravated assault.

March 18, 2013— At the University of Central Florida, 30-year-old student James Oliver Seevakumaran pulled a fire alarm went off at the Tower 1 dormitory. According to plans he had written, Seevakumaran intended to attract a large amount of people inside the building to gather and shoot them. He then pointed a handgun at his roommate and threatened to shoot him inside their dormitory room. Seevakumaran released his roommate who ran into a bathroom to call 911. Seevakumaran then fatally shot himself in the head. Authorities found an assault weapon, a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and four homemade bombs inside his backpack.

April 12, 2013— Two women were wounded during a shooting at the campus of New River Community College. Neil Allen MacInnis was taken into custody.

April 16, 2013— Three students were shot and injured on the campus of Grambling State University.

April 18, 2013— At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, near Building 32 (Stata Center) at 10:48 p.m. EDT, a campus police officer was shot multiple times. The officer, 26-year-old Sean Collier, was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital in nearby downtown Boston, where he was pronounced dead. The shooting was believed to be perpetrated by the suspects of the Boston Marathon bombings that took place in Boston three days prior to this shooting. The two suspects are brothers Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. About three hours after the MIT shooting, Tamerlan died in a gunfight with police in Watertown, Massachusetts. In that gunfight, another officer was shot and seriously wounded. Dzhokhar was arrested 18 hours afterward in Watertown, and was hospitalized in critical condition from a gunshot wound to the neck.

June 7, 2013— 2013 Santa Monica shooting: Six people, including the shooter died and four others were wounded at or near the campus of Santa Monica College when a lone gunman opened fire on the school campus library after shooting at several cars and a city bus at separate crime scenes. The gunman, John Zawahri, was fatally wounded by responding police officers. Among the dead were the shooter's father and brother, both of whom died inside a house that was set on fire a mile or so from the Santa Monica College campus.

August 20, 2013— A man with an AK-47 fired six shots inside the front office of Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, an elementary school. After the gunman fired the shots, he barricaded himself in the office and police at the scene returned fire. Nobody was injured. Children had to leave the building and were being guided to a corner of a field, where they were picked up by their parents. The alleged gunman is a 20-year-old male named Michael Brandon Hill. In the front office of the school, Hill talked with Antoinette Tuff, a woman who worked in the front office, who had called 9-1-1. Tuff talked him down, and helped him surrender to the police before anyone was hurt. Hill was apprehended.

August 23, 2013— A student, Roderick Bobo, 15, was shot during a football game at North Panola High School in what was termed as a gang-related shooting. Two others were injured in the shooting, and three men were charged as being responsible for the crime.

August 30, 2013— A 15-year-old male student was shot in the neck and shoulder at Carver High School, at 2:30 PM. The victim was hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries. An 18-year-old male student was apprehended by a school resource officer without incident. The suspected gunman is charged with assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury, carrying a concealed gun, possessing and discharging a firearm, and carrying a firearm onto educational property. The shooting was believed to be the result of an on-going dispute between the suspect and the victim.

October 4, 2013— A 16-year-old student was shot in the hip at Agape Christian Academy after a fight broke out at 2 pm. An innocent bystander was hit in his ankle by a stray bullet or shrapnel. The two victims were treated for non-life-threatening injuries. The suspected shooter reportedly fled in a car with several other males. He was not caught.

October 21, 2013— 12-year-old seventh-grade student Jose Reyes opened fire with a semi-automatic handgun at the basketball courts of Sparks Middle School, injuring one student in the shoulder. A teacher, Michael Landsberry, who was trying to intervene with the gunman was then shot and killed by Reyes, as he was standing on a playground. Reyes shot and wounded student who tried to come to Landsberry's assistance after he fell onto the ground. That student suffered an injury to his abdomen. Reyes then committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. The shooting happened before classes, and the school was evacuated and was closed for the week.

November 2, 2013— A 21-year-old student was shot and wounded at North Carolina A&T State University. The victim was hospitalized for serious but non-life-threatening injuries. The university was temporarily locked down that night, and the lockdown was lifted about half an hour later. No suspects are in custody.

November 3, 2013— A Stephenson High School student and a janitor were shot in an apparent confrontation between team members and a group of teens who were not attending the school. Both were innocent bystanders in the ordeal.

November 13, 2013— After classes ended, at least one gunman came out of the woods and opened fire on three students as they were walking to their cars at Brashear High School. One student was grazed in the head, another was struck in the neck and shoulder, and a third was hit in the leg and foot. Six people were taken into custody. The shooting is believed to be drug-related.

December 4, 2013— A 15-year-old student was shot and wounded by a 17-year-old student near a soccer field on the campus of West Orange High School. The shooting occurred after a fight broke out between the two students. The 17-year-old suspected shooter was taken into custody several miles away from the school, and is charged with attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm, possession of a firearm by a minor and possession of a firearm on school grounds.

December 13, 2013— 18-year-old Karl Pierson shot 17-year-old student Claire Davis in the head, fatally injuring her, in a hallway in Arapahoe High School. Pierson then committed suicide by shooting himself. Pierson was armed with a shotgun, three Molotov cocktails, and a machete. He was looking for a faculty member who had disciplined him, and intended to shoot him. Claire Davis died from her injuries on December 21, 2013.

December 19, 2013— Four teens went into Edison High School in what was believed as a gang-initiation process. After accosting a 62-year-old woman about a mile away from school grounds, they found an athletic trainer who taught at Edison High and shot him several times in the leg and stomach. It took a few days for the youths to get caught, and this was cinched when the 62-year-old woman and some surveillance video gave police the information they needed.

Strategies for Eliminating School Violence—

Reducing school violence can only be accomplished by a holistic approach using the children themselves, the community, media, educators – and moms and dads. Regardless of what role you play within the community, whether or not you are directly involved with a school, there are practical things you can do to help reduce and eliminate school violence. 

Let’s look at some crucial steps to accomplish this very important goal:

1. Allocate increasingly focused interventions and “staff attention” on children with more chronic behavioral problems. Principals commonly observe that a relatively small number of children in their schools account for a disproportionately large number of disciplinary office referrals. Staff should keep track of child behavioral performance and provide increasingly structured, intensive interventions for children whose classroom conduct has not improved with less intensive consequences.

2. As educators play an important role in a child’s life, he or she should provide attention to each and every child. If the teacher should notice anything irregular, he or she should provide extra attention towards that child and inform the mom or dad about the changes and suggest ways in dealing with it.

3. Be open to ongoing conversations. Make yourself available and let children know that they can talk to you about their concerns and fears about school violence. Keeping these lines of communication open is essential to violence prevention.

4. Create a common school-wide definition of ‘violence’. Before a school or district can effectively mobilize to combat school violence, stakeholders must agree on a shared definition of ‘violence.’ A definition of violence is most useful if it is sufficiently broad enough to cover verbal and physical acts that, intentionally or unintentionally, cause harm, hurt, or embarrassment to another.

5. Don't allow prejudice or stereotypes in the classroom. Set this policy on the first day. Come down hard on children who say prejudicial comments or use stereotypes when talking about people or groups. Make it clear that they are to leave all of that outside the classroom.

6. Foster relationships with law enforcement, outside clinicians, and community agencies. Not all misbehavior can be addressed solely within the confines of a school. Relationships with law enforcement is critical (e.g., making it easier for a teacher to communicate with a probation officer for children in the PINS program or on probation). For children with psychiatric disorders or other medical issues that can influence behavior, schools should work to maintain close contacts with doctors and other clinicians in the community. Also, schools need to know the full range of counseling and other therapeutic services offered by community agencies and organizations, which make valuable recommendations about what services would best address the needs of a particular youngster.

7. If school violence is being discussed in the news, this is a great time to bring it up in class. You can mention the warning signs and talk to children about what they should do if they know someone has a weapon or is planning a violent act.

8. If you hear a student (or a group of students) cursing, teasing or bullying another child, say or do something. Do not turn a blind eye, or you are tacitly approving of that behavior.

9. Implement anti-violence organizations. If your school has such a program, join in and help. Become the club sponsor or help facilitate programs and fundraisers. If your school does not, investigate and help create one. Getting children involved can be a huge factor in helping prevent violence. Examples of different programs include peer-education, mediation, and mentoring.

10. Know the danger signs. There are many warning signs that show up before actual acts of school violence occur. Some of these include: depression and mood swings, lack of anger-management skills, obsessions with violent games, sudden lack of interest, talking about death, bringing weapons to school, violence towards animals, writing that shows despair and isolation, etc. A study of the students who have committed acts of school violence were found to have depression and suicidal tendencies, both of which often result from being teased and bullied by peers. The combination of these two symptoms can have terrible consequences.

11. Know your community. Where are the popular hangouts for teens? Are there any new kids hanging out in the community that may be involved with drugs or gangs? Are there groups of children that bully others? Is there graffiti in your neighborhood? Do you or the police know what is written? Is it tagging, gang related or malicious?

12. Offer jobs and training to young people. If you own a business or know of work or volunteer opportunities, talk to local schools about opportunities that bring children and teens into contact with productive role models and out of contact with violent associates. Such contacts give young people a strong self-esteem. Hire local kids for odd jobs (e.g., lawn care, car washing, babysitting, etc.). Many states allow 15- or 16-year-olds to work (if they have parental permission).

13. Provide assistance at an early stage to children with academic problems. There is a strong relationship between academic failure and misbehavior. Unsuccessful kids often find schools to be unwelcoming places. Children who struggle academically and fail to build an emotional attachment to the academic process are at significantly greater risk than typical peers for gang membership and other delinquent behaviors.

14. Provide swift, consistent consequences for misbehavior. Schools should recognize positive behaviors by granting privileges, specific praise, and opportunities to be recognized for hard work and civility. Negative behaviors should also result in prompt, consistent consequences that take into account both the severity of the infraction and the number of times the child has had behavioral problems in the past. Consequences for negative behaviors are not intended to be punitive, but to provide the youngster with support and to teach that misbehavior comes at a cost.

15. Update yourself on current culture. What sites, games and trends are becoming popular with today’s children? If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, or are involved in schools in any way, know what is popular with kids nowadays. What does their slang mean? Terms children use in texts and emails may be code for behavior they want to hide from grown-ups.

16. Use teachable moments to help teach conflict resolution. If you have children disagreeing in your classroom, talk about ways that they can resolve their problems without resorting to violence. Furthermore, teach ways to manage anger.

17. Volunteer your resources. If you are a social worker, clergyman, law enforcement official or psychologist, you can help your community and local schools by offering your services. Offer classes to educators, moms and dads, and administrators on any information you can provide. Can you help children identify depression and anger in peers? Can you teach a creative writing or poetry class as a way of helping children relieving anger and stress? Can you coach after-school sports? Often children gain a great deal just by seeing an adult that cares.

18. Whenever there is "downtime" in your classroom, and children are just conversing among themselves, make it a point to listen in. Children do not have - and should not expect - a right to privacy in your classroom. As one example, some children knew at least something about what the two teens were planning at Columbine. If you hear something that puts up a red flag, jot it down and bring it to your administrator's attention.

19. When you see a child who seems to be “holding something in” (e.g., always has an angry face, doesn’t talk to others, seems to be in a world on his own, chronically looks discouraged and disgruntled, seems very disconnected from peers, etc.), then you may have a depressed child who is struggling to fit in, or a child who is silently enduring taunts from peers. This could be a deadly scenario if not addressed. Talk to this child to see what’s going on. Talk to the child’s parents to see what’s going on in the home. And, refer the child to the school counselor.

20. While most educators feel that what happens in their classroom is their responsibility, few take the time to involve themselves in what goes on outside of their classroom. In between classes, you should be at your door monitoring the halls. Keep your eyes and ears open. This is a time for you to learn a lot about ALL the students in the school.

Violent deaths at schools are tragic events with far-reaching effects on students, teachers, and the surrounding community. Establishing good indicators of the current state of school crime and safety across the nation, and regularly updating and monitoring these indicators, is important in ensuring the safety of our children. Clearly, schools nationwide need to take a closer look at their security and take measures to help prevent these potentially deadly incidents from occurring.

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