and different kinds of situations. So it may be difficult to rely much on certain secondary prevention instruments, such as profiling, especially for the rampage shootings. For example, in our cases, school administrators and teachers could not easily distinguish high-risk schools, youth, or situations from low-risk ones.

However, secondary prevention in the form of uncovering and responding to plans for rampages can be highly effective and quite targeted. Tertiary preventive instruments are—for lethal violence and school rampages—insufficiently preventive. Communities need to be able to do more than simply respond after the fact. It seems clear that design of successful interventions will require a more sophisticated research base than currently exists.

With this preliminary cautionary discussion in mind, we examine particular preventive ideas that are widely discussed or have been embraced by communities that have either suffered these tragedies or been galvanized into action by the experience of those who did.


Creating a Profile of Likely Shooters

One widely discussed preventive idea is to develop methods to identify likely offenders in instances of lethal school violence or school rampages. If they could be identified, then a secondary preventive instrument could be developed to focus on those who are at high risk of committing such offenses.

The difficulty is that looking at the relatively stable and visible characteristics of youth generally does not help to find likely offenders. The offenders are not that unusual; they look like their classmates at school. This has been an important finding of all those who have sought to investigate these shootings. Most important are the findings of the United States Secret Service, which concluded (Vossekuil et al., 2000:5):

There is no accurate or useful profile of “the school shooter.”

  • Attacker ages ranged from 11–21.

  • They came from a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds. In nearly one-quarter of the cases, the attackers were not white.

  • They came from a range of family situations, from intact families with numerous ties to the community to foster homes with histories of neglect.

  • The academic performance ranged from excellent to failing.

  • They had a range of friendship patterns from socially isolated to popular.

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