vented threats made by the shooters in advance of the events from being heard and taken seriously by adults. In the other two suburban cases (Edinboro and Rockdale County), the problem was not attributed to a general community problem but instead was seen as the result of a single troubled kid growing up mentally ill in a troubled family. None of the suburban communities attributed the violence in their communities to violence in American society, perhaps because they felt insulated from the violence that was happening elsewhere. Nor did they attribute the violence to gangs, because they did not see the cliques that formed in their schools as gangs that created occasions for or supported violent acts. The adults and youth in these communities may have been influenced in some ways by the violence of the wider society, but if they were being so influenced, they were not much aware of it.

Criminal Justice Response

These different interpretations of the events did not lead to different criminal justice responses to the shootings. All except two of the shooters were tried as adults on the most serious charge that the evidence would support, usually first- or second-degree murder. All those charged with murder in adult court eventually pleaded guilty to lesser offenses that recognized mitigating circumstances. In two of the inner-city cases, the mitigating circumstance was either “acting under extreme emotional distress” or “acting in self-defense.” In two of the rural/suburban cases (Paducah and Rockdale County), the mitigating circumstance was mental illness. Four of the shooters received very long sentences: 45 years for the Chicago offender; life without parole for 25 years for the Paducah shooter; 30–60 years in prison, eligible for parole at age 45, for the Edinboro youth; and 60 years of custody, including 40 years of probation, for the mentally disturbed adolescent in Rockdale County. The two New York shooters received somewhat more lenient sentences: 3–9 years in prison, part served in a youth facility for one, and 6–20 years in prison for the other (of which only 5 years were served, but the offender remains under supervision in the community for the rest of his sentence). The juvenile offenders from Jonesboro got the maximum sentence allowed under the juvenile law—an indeterminate sentence to age 21. The fact that the Jonesboro offenders will be getting out of jail relatively soon has created great concern in that community.

Only one victim of the inner-city shootings chose to pursue civil litigation against the school board. In three of the four suburban shootings, civil litigation was also initiated by the victims against the shooters, the shooters’ families, and (in two cases) against those who were the source of weapons for the shooting. In Paducah, the suit also named high school

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement