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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
schools are relatively free of violent crime, some schools experience very high rates, especially those in high-crime areas of U.S. cities (Kaufman et al., 1999).
During the past 10 years, a spate of multiple-victim shooting incidents in school settings has greatly increased and widened public concern about violence in schools. From 1992 to 2001, 35 incidents occurred in which students showed up at their school or at a school-sponsored event and started shooting at their schoolmates and teachers. These incidents, represented most starkly by the incident at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, left 53 people dead and 144 injured (see Table 9-1). These shootings contributed to a significant increase in homicide rates for students killed in multiple-victim incidents on school grounds between 1992 and 1999 (Anderson et al., 2001).
These events shocked the public partly because so many were killed or injured so quickly in a single incident. It was also particularly frightening that in many instances the victims seemed to have been chosen more or less at random. But the intense public concern was also due to the social location of the shootings. Much of the violence occurred in communities that had, until the time these shootings occurred, been spared the kind of lethal youth violence that beset some of their urban neighbors. Moreover, the shootings took place in schools—the place in communities that is supposed to be protective of children. Finally, the fact that these terrible shootings didn’t stop—they kept occurring at an apparently increasing rate in a pattern that suggested an emergent epidemic—pushed the level of concern much higher.
THE STUDY CHARGE
Responding to the high level of public concern, the U.S. Congress asked the National Research Council (NRC) to undertake a detailed study of lethal school violence, giving special attention to these particular events. Specifically, the NRC was asked to convene a committee to “conduct a study regarding antecedents of school violence in urban, suburban, and rural schools, including the incidents of school violence that occurred in Pearl, Mississippi; Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; Springfield, Oregon; Edinboro, Pennsylvania; Fayetteville, Tennessee; Littleton, Colorado; and Conyers, Georgia.”
Congress also requested that the study should be conducted through the development and analysis of detailed case studies describing the circumstances leading up to the events, what happened in the events, and how the community responded both before and after the event. The goal was to use the case studies to learn, first, about the important causes and consequences of these unexpected lethal shootings and, second, what ac