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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
other shootings accorded a significant role. In that case, the offender was powerfully influenced by the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. He knew about it, studied it, and took inspiration from it. In the committee’s view, that counts as a copycat incident. Although that offender might have done something else hazardous to himself and others if the Columbine incident had not occurred, it seems clear that Columbine had a very large effect on the shape his actions took. In another case, the shooter showed a high interest in the Jonesboro shooting, which occurred exactly one month previously. In that case the shooting incident itself was very different, so it is not clear whether he was copying the Jonesboro incident; his general behavior might have been inspired by it, however. Given that these are rare events, even one copycat shooting makes contagion an important contributor to the kinds of shooting sprees that occurred in the rural and suburban cases.
The committee analyzed the communities’ responses by looking at how they learned about and formed interpretations of the events; the role of the local and national media; the role of community leaders; and the policy responses made by the communities: what they did to deal with the grief and anxiety that spread in the aftermath of the events, what they did to improve security in schools, how they handled the offenders, and what lessons they drew from the experience. There was significant variability in the responses as well as some common elements.
Media attention created enormous difficulties for the communities in which these events occurred. In the cases for which information was collected, the media coverage of the event was considered to be inaccurate by the community and turned out to be so inaccurate that the case writers could not rely on it. It is also clear that the media coverage was experienced as destructive and unhelpful to the communities and the schools. This was particularly true for the suburban and rural schools that experienced shooting sprees, which attracted huge, sustained national media coverage. The reports from Paducah, Jonesboro, and Rockdale County indicate significant local hostility to the national media and their negative impact on the local communities. In Chicago, the media coverage was so intense and so inaccurate that it caused the case writer to conclude that the case had been decided in the press before the trial was conducted, distorting the facts and limiting the dispositional options.