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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY
No student has been fatally shot in a Chicago public school since 1992. The last two fatal shootings occurred in high schools on Chicago’s South Side during a 10-day period from November 10 to 20, 1992. A youth accidentally shot himself at school in the first incident. The second incident that is the focus of this study resulted in the death of one 15-year-old boy, the serious wounding of a second youth, and the shooting of a third youth in the foot. The youth who was killed, Delondyn Lawson, was identified in the first front page news stories (November 20, 1992), while the shooter and other two victims were not.
The initial stories came on Friday, the day after the Thursday shooting. They reported the shooting as a response to a skirmish about a gambling debt. The gambling involved a dice game earlier in the week in a school washroom. The shooter was described as having “fired a handgun about four times randomly toward the skirmish.” Two unidentified suspects were reportedly arrested, and it was noted that metal detectors at the school were not functioning on the day of the shooting because they were being used on randomly chosen days to minimize cost and disruption.
The next day, Saturday, the story was again on page one and the headline read, “Even Safety of Schools Shattered, Student Slain, 2 Others Wounded in Hallway at Tilden” (November 21, 1992). The story was built around the victim’s mother, Linda Lawson, who asked, “What was I supposed to do with a 15-year-old? I drove him there in the morning, and I was there at 2:02 p.m. to pick him up. What else can you do? You have to send them to school.” The story noted that Delondyn Lawson had been fatally shot in the back, and two other youths were injured.
Joseph White was identified in this story as the alleged shooter and as a 15-year-old freshman at Tilden now charged in adult court with first degree murder. He had fled the school pursued by other youths and a security guard and hid under a nearby back porch before being found and arrested. The story again mentioned the dice game and now briefly the possibility of gang involvement. Delondyn Lawson was described as a “great dancer and funny,” a boy who liked football and video games and who was trying to stay away from gangs.
This second story also marked the entry of Mayor Richard Daley into the matter. The mayor responded to the random use of metal detectors, which was defended by the police and schools. “They have to realize you have to run them every day,” the mayor insisted, “because if we run them in the federal building and in the state criminal justice system, you can’t get [guns] in there.” The mayor asked, “What’s more important? Children are more important than anybody else in society. And that shooting, the death of a young child, directly affects everyone.” The mother of a