advance that the cases would fall short of providing definitive scientific answers.


The first challenge was to choose the particular cases to be developed. This task had both practical and scientific elements. Congress had provided some guidance to the committee on this matter by specifying eight incidents that were illustrative of the problem they considered important to take up and that might be suitable for detailed study. The practical part of the problem, given that resources were available for only six cases, was to select from among those listed.

The scientific question before the committee was to determine the general class of violence of which these eight incidents were exemplars. As stated in Chapter 1, Congress asked the committee to examine “incidents of lethal school violence in urban, suburban, and rural schools,” yet all of the cases identified by Congress occurred in suburban and rural schools.

It seemed important that the committee address both the spirit and the letter of the congressional request. We therefore decided initially to study incidents that had the characteristics listed in our operational definition of lethal violence regardless of the nature of the community in which they occurred.

Moreover, as part of our work, we developed a dataset of all such incidents, using it as a kind of sampling frame for the set of cases and later as a way of indicating both levels and trends in this form of violence. Since much of the lethal violence among young people had occurred in inner-city schools, we assumed we would find examples of this kind of lethal violence in inner-city schools as well.

To our surprise, we could find no cases in urban inner-city schools that met these requirements in the time period we were examining, 1997–1999. There were incidents of lethal violence in urban schools, and there were a few schools that had experienced more than one fatality in a given year. But no incidents had what seemed to be the key characteristic of multiple victimizations including fatalities occurring in the same incident.

That preliminary finding was a very important one to the committee. It seemed that the form of lethal school violence that occurred in the late 1990s might represent a distinct form of lethal school violence—one that might be similar in its consequences for the victims and communities in which it occurred, but different in its causes and in its effective prevention and control.

This possibility encouraged us to take up the important scientific

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