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Deadly Lessons: Understanding Lethal School Violence
nity social and physical conditions that research has shown create a milieu for the development of youth violence. Most of the rural and suburban communities did not demonstrate these structural conditions, and in fact three of the four were demographically the opposite—thriving economically, having a high degree of social capital, and mostly free of crime and violence. The committee notes that five of the six communities in these cases had experienced rapid social change, which may produce instability even where the changes are seen as positive ones.
A common element across school settings was the presence of numerous informal and exclusive student groups. In the urban schools, these were mostly marginal groups—gangs, including criminal gangs, and “crews.” In the rural and suburban schools, they were cliques—some mainstream and some marginal. Membership in these groups determined social status in most of these schools, but there were notable differences in relationships in the different school settings. In the urban cases, the boys’ friendships were embedded in these marginal groups; in the rural and suburban cases, the boys were marginal members of both mainstream and marginal groups.
An important similarity across all of the cases was the gulf between the communities’ youth culture and that of adults. Parents and most teachers had a poor understanding of the children’s exposure to changing community conditions, their experiences in social situations including at school, and their interpretations of those experiences. There was an intense concern among these shooters about their social standing in their school and among their peers. This took different forms in the inner-city and the rural and suburban cases, but for this group of offenders it was similar in that it was almost always about shielding themselves from physical victimization, including bullying or other personal humiliation. Although in most cases the youth had hinted at what was to come, parents and teachers were mostly unaware of the status problems they were experiencing and of their almost universal belief that they had nowhere to turn. In the words of one of the case authors, “the social dynamics of adolescence in these communities were almost entirely hidden from adult view.” Whether or not this is characteristic of most communities is a question that remains unanswered.
With only one exception, the cases were treated virtually identically in the criminal justice system. Six of the eight shooters were charged with the highest offense that could be supported by the evidence, usually first-or second-degree murder, and tried in the adult (criminal) courts rather than the juvenile courts. Most were sentenced to long terms of incarcera