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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
tween the earlier epidemic of inner-city youth violence and the later series of shootings by youth in suburban and rural schools.
To meet its charge, the committee commissioned and analyzed six case studies of schools and communities that had experienced incidents of serious school violence in which more than one person was killed or seriously injured in a single attack. Four of these cases involved schools in suburban and rural communities that were listed in the legislation. Two of the cases involved inner-city schools, one of which had experienced two such incidents earlier in the 1990s.
The committee also reviewed the literature on violence as a context for interpreting the cases, especially in terms of what might be causing the incidents we studied and how they might best be prevented. This included review of a very small literature on incidents that looked similar to the ones we were asked to review; the literature on broad categories of violence, including violence in general, youth violence, school violence, and the relationship between violence and suicide; and an emerging literature on some specialized forms of violence that bore some similarity to the incidents we studied, including mass murders, rampage shootings, and “suicide by cop” (e.g., incidents in which individuals seemed to shoot in order to provoke a response by the police). Finally, because there might be some contagion effects in the events we were examining, we looked into studies that explore the contagiousness of violence. The committee’s findings, presented below, are based on our analysis of the cases, the data, and the literature review.
The limitations of the available evidence made it impossible for the committee to reach firm, scientific conclusions about either the causes and consequences of the shootings in rural and suburban schools or the most effective means of preventing and controlling them. However, we did develop some hypotheses that seem strong enough to guide action and research while better information is being developed.
The committee found significant and long-lasting harm in each of the communities studied, although the lethal violence took different forms across the urban and the rural and suburban cases. The tragedy and shock of the large numbers killed and injured all at once in the suburban and rural cases still reverberates in those communities. Those closest to the center of these incidents continue to be traumatized; victims’ civil suits against the shooters’ families and the schools are still pending, and